Tis the Season for Parties -- and Job Hunting!
With all the year-end office parties and holiday gatherings, this is a good time to land a new position for 2006. Here's how to network at these festivities.
By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

The holiday season is the time for office parties, professional get-togethers, and year-end meetings. Every year readers write to me asking if it's appropriate for them to use these events to search for a new job. And every year, I say yes. While it may be tempting to kick back and relax during the holidays, that could be a costly mistake. As companies finish up their financial planning for 2006, they're under pressure to fill certain openings or risk losing the budget for those jobs. And hiring managers often don't travel as much around the holidays, so they may have more time -- and patience -- to chat with job seekers.

This is also the perfect time to stand out from your potential rivals, many of whom may be too busy shopping, cooking, or partying to job search. So if you haven't been invited to enough professional gatherings, ask friends who work at other companies if they can invite you as their guest. Remember that you don't want to turn a festive occasion into an obvious job-search activity. Go with the objective of catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. But to make the most of these gatherings, here are some dos and don'ts that I've given readers over the years:

  • Do dress conservatively and act professionally. You may meet future colleagues or hiring managers, so you want to make the right impression.

  • Don't hand out your resume, but do discreetly exchange business cards. If you're talking to someone about business opportunities, make sure that you can contact each other after the New Year.

  • Do talk about business in general terms. Discuss what's happening in your industry, and what you've contributed to your organization (present or former) during the year.

  • Do briefly update friends and acquaintances about your situation. Emphasize what's been positive about your job search, like the intriguing people you've met, or the interesting companies that you've visited.

  • Don't complain about how long it takes to find a job, the level of jobs available, or about how companies are being too demanding, too stingy, or what-have-you. Nobody likes a whiner, especially at a party.

  • Do stay sober. If you're drinking alcohol, stick with wine or beer. And avoid salty snacks like chips and pretzels: As every bar owner knows, they encourage people to drink more.

  • Last, but not least, do avoid the awkward kiss under the mistletoe. Check the lintel over the doorways and the hanging lights, which often obscure the holiday sprig. Once you've located it, plan your comings and goings so that you don't pass under it. If someone catches you under the mistletoe, try a light-hearted fib like, "That's not real mistletoe; it's plastic. How tacky -- we can't kiss under that!" Or "Can you believe they put up mistletoe? Who believes in that anymore?"

And since the holiday season is a time of giving, if you have a job, make yourself available to a friend or acquaintance who is looking for one. If you can, offer to serve as a reference, proofread her resume, or help her role-play interview scenarios. Job searching can be a stressful, discouraging experience, so call up someone who is looking for a position and offer her encouragement, or invite her out to lunch. After all, what goes around comes around. Who knows? A currently unemployed acquaintance may someday return the favor when the shoe is on the other foot.

Happy holidays!

Note to readers: Ask Annie will be on vacation until January 9. The column will be moving to its new home on CNNmoney.com; in 2006, you'll be able to find it, as always, at www.askannie.com. If you currently receive Ask Annie by e-mail, your subscription to the newsletter should automatically continue uninterrupted next year. If you experience trouble with newsletter delivery after January 9, please contact us at http://money.cnn.com/services/speakup/.


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