When it comes to office parties, no one wants to be that person everyone is talking about the next morning.
Most people just want to survive the night unscathed, yet more workers should be considering the event as an opportunity to get ahead, experts say.
Last year, almost two-thirds of organizations held an end-of-year holiday party open to all employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, although a growing number of companies are skipping the festivities altogether.
For those who are getting in the spirit this year, this is a unique opportunity to use the event to your career advantage. Here's how:
Do attend. "It's always a good idea to go," said Paul McDonald, the senior executive director at staffing firm Robert Half. "It shows you are part of the team and that you want to get to know your colleagues on a different level."
And commit to the evening, he added. If it's a three-hour party, employees should aim to be there for two or more hours, McDonald said. Managers and supervisors should stay for the allotted time.
Don't get drunk. Many company holiday parties serve alcohol, according to SHRM, but drinking too much is the biggest mistake that people make, said Rachel Kim, a career strategist and coach at online lender SoFi. While some struggle to resist the lure of an open bar, "you need to pace yourself," she said.
Opportunities to interact with senior executives are generally rare, so don't blow it by slurring your words or worse, she said. "It is important to leave the best impression possible and not have their lasting memory of you stumbling across the dance floor." Be sociable and friendly, but don't be out of control.
Barbara Safani, president of Career Solvers in New York, suggests opting for a wine spritzer instead of a glass of wine. Kim also recommends eating beforehand to ensure that first drink doesn't go right to your head and picking an after-party spot to go to with your closest company friends if you want to really let your hair down in a nonwork setting.
Do have a plan. Decide in advance who you want to chat with, whether that's the company's CEO or the head of a different division that you have an interest in and then find the right opportunity to introduce yourself.
Think through some talking points including what projects you're working on or what you're excited to tackle in the coming year, but keep the conversation light, Kim said. "Small talk about holiday or New Year's Eve plans is a good starting place."
But don't corner someone with a too-rehearsed pitch, McDonald added, this is a party after all. "It's a noninterview environment," he said. Ideally you will make a good impression and then follow up on Monday to talk more specifically about your career-related goals.
Don't ignore your date. If your company party includes a plus one, use that to your advantage. Although these types of work events are usually a bore for even the most good-natured spouse or partner, fill them in ahead of time on the important people and anything you know about them that can help spark a conversation so you can work the party together, Kim said. "Anyone you bring to a party can help you have fun and build new relationships."
And, perhaps even more valuable, have them introduce themselves first if you've forgotten someone's name, she said.
Do branch out. Even if you you have tight clique of work friends that you talk to every day, or an office spouse, this is an opportunity to expand your circle. Aim to have a few meaningful conversations, Safani said. "In general, but particularly in a party setting, ask questions."
Commit yourself to a set period of time to talk to coworkers you don't know as well, before hanging out with your crew, Kim said. She suggests networking for the first 30 minutes to 45 minutes.
"Save the early part of the party for those conversations before you fall back in with your crowd."
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