Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Social networking and business holiday parties – the pros and cons of mixing business with pleasure

Posted in job search and career development, social networking and business by Timothy Platt on December 3, 2009

I always seem to have about a dozen upcoming postings planned out and ready to go, at least for topic and general approach to fleshing them out. This is a last minute entry to the list that I am adding in now because we are entering the year-end holiday season and this is a time of year that a lot of businesses seem to hold holiday parties. I get invitations to this type of event and I have been getting them and attending these parties for years, and with a wide range of organizations and types of organization.

Holiday parties are often viewed as potential mine fields and opportunities for creating long lasting problems – problems that can come back to haunt well after the party is over and in general forgotten, and the new year has long since begun. There is the potential for this to happen, but these events are planned and held for more positive reasons too, and it is possible to develop value out of participating in them. So I offer some ideas here with the hope of making the office party a more positive and less risky experience. Go to them and have fun but remember this is a business event and a source of potential business value.

• Holiday parties offer an opportunity to meet with people in the organization you do not generally get to run into if you ever see them at all. Sometimes this is because they generally work at a different office, and perhaps even in a different time zone. Sometimes this is simply because of the way that silo walls in the organization limit contact.
• Do look for and meet with people you have reason to network with who you would not ordinarily get to meet with face to face. These events can be a lot more relaxed than the usual office setting encounter so use that to break the ice in starting a conversation but remember this is still a business event and a business setting.
• Do not assume that just because the company president is there, that you can walk over to them and start a long conversation. Approach people significantly higher on the table of organization in this setting if at all, as you would if you encountered them in the hallway or perhaps at a meeting at work and show you respect their time and their networking bandwidth too.
• Dress appropriately for the occasion and watch what you eat and drink. For purposes of these and related issues, this is not a party at all. It is a business event.
• Think of these events as career development networking opportunities – approach them as opportunities to share value, where respecting the time, interests and attention span of others is part of the value you can share with them.

The above points come to immediate mind for me as I have seen them broken, and with consequences. I have seen them followed too, and with more positive consequences. So have fun and remember this is a positive opportunity to reach out to and connect with people away from the usual context. That can help you find and open doors, both for short term job performance and for your longer term career development. Just keep it business, even if it is business casual.

As a final thought here, and this applies to in-house employees, contract employees and guests:

• Know and observe the rules of the road for the corporate culture that this business event is going to play out in. If in doubt ask someone who has been to several of these events how they are run and about how they go as business and social occasions – with that organization. If in doubt, start out treating this as a more formal event and adjust towards the more business casual as appropriate and on the basis of ongoing events going on around you.

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