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Make Your Work Holiday Party Work for You

Make Your Work Holiday Party Work for You

By Charles Purdy, Monster+HotJobs Senior Editor

More than 30 percent of respondents to a Monster poll either dislike or downright despise attending employers' holiday parties. That's a big dose of "Bah, humbug!" at what is supposed to be a jolly time of year.

But maybe those people are looking at workplace holiday parties in the wrong way. If you focus on the word "party," you'll likely end up a bit disappointed -- and you could even end up damaging your career. (We've all heard stories of holiday-party nightmares caused by an excess of revelry.)

But if you look at those two or three hours as a necessary (and potentially very valuable) part of your job, you may be able to turn a dull social event into a step up the company ladder. Here are some tips:

1. Start with a Strategy

It's tempting to hang out all evening with your usual office cronies. But career expert Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions, says that before the party, you should prepare a list of people it would be beneficial to talk to. "It's a smart idea to schmooze with the boss, your coworkers and your office rival -- just so everyone knows the competition is friendly," she says.

2. Socialize with the Right People

Brad Karsh, president of JB Training Solutions and author of How to Say It on Your Resume, agrees with Oliver, suggesting that you try to meet three new people and talk to higher-ups. "The holiday party is your chance to rub elbows with some of the more senior people at the company,” he says. “Introduce yourself and make a great impression."

Career coach Julie Jansen, author of I Don't Know What I Want, But I Know It's Not This, says to also consider "people whom you can learn from or who operate in a different sphere of influence."

3. Dress for Success

A festive tie or holiday-themed earrings are certainly suitable; however, don’t treat the holiday party like a real party, Oliver says. “It's actually work, and you should dress accordingly,” she says. “If you're female, dress conservatively [and] make sure you're not revealing bare arms or any cleavage."

4. If You Want to Mingle, Go Single

Oliver says that it's often better to arrive at an office party by yourself, even if other people bring significant others. "Your mission is to get along with everyone, talk to a few higher-ups and get out of there in one piece," she says. "You'll be better able to accomplish your goals if you are not saddled with another person who isn't part of the office gang."

5. Eat First and Drink Lightly

"It's a bad idea to arrive ravenous," says Oliver. "You want to feel sated, so that you can spend your time productively socializing, rather than figuring out how to grab the rapidly disappearing shrimp toast."

And having a couple of drinks at a work social event is fine. Just pace yourself -- many office-party faux pas are caused by overindulging in liquor. (Jansen suggests alternating cocktails with glasses of water.)

6. Avoid Talking Shop

Preparing some conversational topics in advance can be helpful, especially if you're shy. Make sure you're up on current events, and think about some of your key nonwork-related achievements you want people to know about. Also, remember that a great way to become known as a great conversationalist is to ask lots friendly questions -- and to listen.

7. Go with the Flow

Don't monopolize anyone, don't interject yourself into obviously private conversations and don't brush someone off just because he's not on your "target list" of people to talk to.

If your game plan goes awry, you may need to improvise. Oliver offers a tip on "shaking" someone who has glued herself to your side. "One ploy is to ask if you can grab her a drink,” she says. “Then quickly circulate the room before getting her the drink you promised."

8. Know When to Leave

Take note of when the party seems to be dying down, and make your exit. Don't stay if you're overtired -- and if you start to feel a little tipsy, call a cab (before you end up undoing all of your evening's good work by dancing on a tabletop or misusing an office copy machine).

9. Follow Up

"If you had a great conversation, follow up when you're back in the office on Monday,” Karsh says. “Invite that new colleague to lunch. People will notice your ability to establish relationships across the company, which is looked upon favorably when it comes time for promotions."

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