With the holiday season here, there are more opportunities to meet up with friends and family, and these can be great networking opportunities for your developing career. Whether you’re looking for a job after graduation, an internship for next summer, or have some big questions about your career direction, networking is an invaluable resource.

Set your goals on getting to know the people around you, and taking steps to expand your network. Here are some tips to get you started, and make networking feel more personal.

1. Ask questions that help you learn about others.

Getting a conversation started can be tough, and asking questions is a good way to get someone to start talking. The best questions are the ones that really interest you and that the person to whom you are speaking can answer.

For instance, if you see your aunt over break, and she is a businesswoman whom you respect, you may want to seek out her advice. Asking Aunt Kaye what you should do with your degree in communications certainly involves a question that interests you, but she may not know about careers in communications or which resources to recommend.

Instead, try asking her questions that help you learn about her and her network. You might ask how the media she uses in business has changed and what sources she goes to for news, or if she knows anyone who works in communications, PR, or marketing at her firm or elsewhere. All of this information can help you make connections between her experiences, her network, and your career interests.

2. If you learn something helpful, explain how you will use that information.

If you have dinner with a friend’s family and learn that your friend’s brother’s girlfriend’s brother is a chef, and you want to become a chef, consider asking if you could speak with him about his career to learn more. Despite the distant connection, you can bridge this gap by asking for an introduction.

Then, follow your request with a simple explanation of how that can be useful to you, such as, “I’d like to learn more about how he found his first job, and what advice he could give to me.” This honesty makes the request sincere and easier to relay.

Just imagine the conversation that could follow between your friend’s brother and his girlfriend … “I went to dinner with my brother and his friend, James, and it came up that James wants to become a chef. Do you think your brother would talk to him about how he found his first job and share some advice?”

3. Share details that show your skills, professionalism, and motivation.

If you know what career information you need, you can be specific about your needs and your relevant skills, but if you don’t know what your career goals are, you may be unclear about how to promote your assets. Imagine yourself at a holiday party where you learn that someone is a physical therapist who works with athletes.

If you like sports, but never thought about this career path or taken any related courses, you may feel like you have no relevant assets to highlight. However, talking about your genuine interest, your willingness to work hard, and your eagerness to research requirements for jobs in the field are all examples of your professionalism.

Add to these the science and math classes you’ve taken or your experience from the sports you’ve played and you’ll be sharing the groundwork you’ve paved for the foundation of a new career. This can help people think of next steps or recommend you to their network.

4. Respect your environment.

Sometimes, a detailed conversation about your career isn’t appropriate or possible. You might be at a crowded party where it’s difficult to hear, other people might interrupt the conversation, or the person you want to speak with may not seem interested. If necessary, move to another topic.

However, if you feel that the person is receptive, consider asking if you could follow up to speak further or set up an informational interview. Don’t follow up by sending your resume. Instead, send an e-mail to thank the person for offering to speak and work towards setting up a convenient time for a meeting, either on the phone or in person.

Effective networking will lead to sincere, meaningful relationships

Networking over the holiday season can be fun and lead to new relationships and insights for your career. Conversations that reflect your interest in others can help you turn your holidays into a time of learning and expanding possibilities.

What relationships have you built through social events that have helped your career?


About The Author

Francine Fabricant_headshotFrancine Fabricant is a career counselor and the lead author of Creating Career Success. She has an extraordinary passion for career development, and is a frequent speaker on career topics. She has worked at the Columbia University Center for Career Education and FIT’s Career Services. She received an MA and EdM from Teachers College, Columbia University and a BA cum laude from Barnard College, Columbia University. Visit her website at www.francinefabricant.com.