It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year…to Network

The UMUC Career Service Team offers tips for networking this holiday season

Things slow down in many workplaces during the holidays, but what about your networking? The holidays can be a great time to grow your professional network. It is a social time with a lot of parties, events and other opportunities to meet new people and engage with those you already know. The downtime in the office also allows you to think strategically about expanding your network and creating more engagement with your existing contacts.

The UMUC Career Services Team offers the following tips to take advantage of this season and get started on your 2018 networking goals.

Be social

A common networking roadblock that affects many professionals is not feeling comfortable engaging with strangers, says Kristin Schrader, UMUC Associate Director of InternPLUS and Military Career Programs. She says this leads many to only network online instead of going to events and meeting people in person. Both have benefits, but in-person engagement can be more memorable.

To combat this fear, Schrader advises, “Go to an event that is within your comfort zone. This can mean choosing a smaller event or one that is focused on a specific interest, such as specific organization or a military-affiliated event. It can be easier to engage at an event when you likely have something in common with other attendees. ”Schrader reminds you to bring business cards wherever you go this holiday season. You never know when you will make a contact. She also suggests including your LinkedIn profile URL on the cards.

Career Advising Specialist, Cathy Francois, suggests you also tap into your current network. “If you have a contact who works for a company that you are interested in, inquire about being a guest at the company‘s holiday party or at an informal gathering. This will give you the opportunity to be personally introduced to contacts at the company without much pressure,” she says.

Bring something to the table

“Networking often stalls when it feels like a one-sided relationship with all take and no give,“ says Rhoda Smackum, a UMUC career advising specialist and associate certified career coach. She points out people already have a lot of responsibilities at work and home, so you need to demonstrate the mutual benefits of your relationship.

“Savvy job seekers take an interest in the people they meet and in their current contacts. They cultivate their contacts by making it clear that at some point in the relationship they will receive something in return,” says Smackum.

Smackum points to students who have joined LinkedIn interest groups to provide their expertise.  She says some end up receiving great resources and even job leads. 

Be human; be engaged

In many ways, networking isn’t much different than the other relationships you nurture in your life. However, because it is more formal, it is easy to forget the human aspect. It is good to have a game plan for an event, but if you don’t allow yourself to really listen and are always thinking about what comes next, it will be difficult to make strong connections.

“Focus on the conversation at hand,” suggests Ann Martin, a UMUC career advising specialist and a mid-life career changer. “Ask questions, listen carefully and take a genuine interest in others.” She also recommends, “looking for areas of commonality.” Let connections you meet in-person know you want to connect with them on LinkedIn or email. Then remind them of something about your conversation when you follow-up.

Follow-up without overwhelming your new contacts

You have done the hard work and made some new connections. Don’t drop the ball. “Make sure you do not neglect to follow-up with your contacts after the event,” advises Smackum. “Keep in mind that it is the holidays, so you may not receive an immediate response.

Smackum also says not to expect too much too soon from new contacts. “When you meet contacts for the first time it is better to give before you receive.”

Martin echoes this sentiment. She advises engaging without it feeling like there is an agenda and offers these simple ways to connect authentically with your online network:

  • Comment on things people post
  • Include some analysis or first-hand experience when you share articles
  • Share content directly with select contacts based on what you know they are interested in
  • Help your contacts make other meaningful connections
  • Engage your contacts for feedback if there is a topic you know they are passionate about
  • Consider writing and sharing original content; engage the communications team at your company to ensure your plans align with the company’s policies because the company may be able to expand your reach to its network.

Self-reflection and planning: What value are you bringing to your network?

Shrader recommends using the holiday downtime to reflect on the state of your network.  Here are some questions to ask as you are doing the assessment:

  • Is your network large enough and in the career areas/industries that interest you? If not, how can broaden your reach? She suggests looking at LinkedIn’s 2nd and 3rd degree connections to better appreciate the benefit of a vast network and to build new relationships. When connecting with someone you have never met, write a short note to help the contact understand why you chose to engage. Do not ask for anything at this stage. You can ask your 1st-level connection to make an introduction, but don’t reference that person without their consent. It could backfire.
  • Do you have engagement problem? Have you been in touch with any of these key contacts in the past six months?  If not, the end of the year can be a great time to reach out and reconnect, even if it is via a holiday card or email.
  • Is your content compelling? Do you just repost articles or do you provide some insight? Do you ever share content directly with someone? Be sure to include a personal note about why you thought the contact would find it interesting, so it doesn’t seem like spam.
  • Are you realizing your potential? Use the holiday downtime to identify goals to enhance your network in the coming year. Start with a brief plan to improve your network engagement over the next three months.

UMUC’s Career Services team is always here to assist you on your professional journey. Visit CareerQuest today to explore the career tools and resources available to assist in your career progression. If you have any questions, please contact your UMUC Career Services office at 240-684-2720 or careerservices@umuc.edu.

We hope to hear from you this holiday season and in the new year. Happy Networking!