Holiday Party Do’s and Don’ts

Holiday business parties may seem like “no big deal,” but in reality, they’re very important career opportunities — and potential career-breakers.

“People forget it’s a work party,” says Gail Cohen, an author and career trainer who’s considered an expert in the sociological aspects of business. “Certainly, you should enjoy yourself. But you’ve got to remember you’re NOT out socializing with friends and should not behave as if you are.”

ThinkstockPhotos-454971061In other words, you want to present a positive image of yourself as a person others would want to work with, promote and do business with. You don’t want to be remembered the next day as the woman who passed out head first in the spiked punch bowl — or the guy who exclaimed to a top exec’s wife, “Zowie! Are those real?”

“Your goal isn’t to have fun,” Cohen explained.“Your goal is to use this opportunity to make personal connections, to learn more about your colleagues, your clients, your bosses,” she explained. Then you’ll use that information to your advantage during the coming year.

For example, maybe you discover that you and a manager in another department both have daughters involved in soccer. That’s a connection you can talk about now and again, and when you need cooperation from his department, you’ll have a better chance of getting it. Perhaps a corporate bigwig is planning a trip with her husband to an area of Italy you’re well familiar with. You can share your insight — and put yourself on her radar screen at the same time.

8 Business Party Dos and Don’ts …

DO dress memorably, but don’t look overly sexy.
A bit sexy is fine for your holiday finery, Cohen says. But again, this is a work function, so “no necklines plunging to the naval for women, nothing too weird for men, like silk pajamas.” Dress memorably, dress elegantly or be a bit fun.

ThinkstockPhotos-150672106DO stay sober, rather than risk becoming a company legend.
The booze may be free, but it can cost your career plenty if you overindulge. If you drink socially, then have a drink. But consume much less than when with friends, Cohen stresses. Getting drunk and wrestling on the floor with the HR director who tries to take your car keys at the end of the evening is not a savvy career move.

DO introduce yourself to everyone.
“Introducing yourself to others is a very attractive quality,” Cohen says. “Don’t assume everyone knows your name. And if you don’t remember a name, walk up, say, ‘Hi I’m Gail, would you remind me what your name is?’ ”

DO bring your spouse or partner.
“People are very touched when you want them to meet the people close to you,” Cohen says. Give your date a preparty run-down on who’s who, and make sure he or she knows the dress code for the event. Once you’re there, make lots of introductions.

DON’T call in sick — no matter what.
All professionals should consider the office party mandatory attendance. “Unless you’re unconscious in the emergency room, don’t call in sick,” Cohen advises. “People will remember if you don’t show up. So show your face, even if you feel terrible.”

DON’T talk business.
“This is not the time to be a walking PowerPoint presentation for your pet project,” Cohen says. Talking business at the office party is a no-no. Instead, draw people out by talking about sports, kids, pets, hobbies, books or movies. This can be incredibly useful information.

DON’T stick with your department pals.
Make it a point to talk to several people you barely know and build connections with them. “And don’t just schmooze with the top brass,” Cohen stresses. “Get to know people at all levels in your company — they can support and influence your career.”

DON’T go lookin’ for love.
“The office holiday party is not — repeat not — the place to go looking for a bed partner,” Cohen says. If you want a date, bring your own. Keep your exchanges with coworkers friendly and professional, and don’t get caught under the mistletoe.

To sum it up, remember that holiday business parties are working events. Keep your wits about you, make lots of connections with others — “and remember everything that’s said,” Cohen concluded. “If you’re smart, you’ll use this information to your advantage.”

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