Five tips for making the most of in-person networking this holiday season

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If a new job is all you want for Christmas, Hanukkah or any other holiday, this may well be the prime time to brush up on some traditional networking skills.

The holiday season offers increased opportunities to interact with friends, family, neighbors and business associates at parties, activities and end-of-year gatherings. In other words, face-to-face networking opportunities will abound.

Recruiters and workplace experts say in-person networking remains an essential tool to complement your online and social media job search. The following five tips can help you make the most of your networking opportunities in the coming weeks:

Accept invitations: Woody Allen famously said 80 percent of life is showing up — those are words to live by during the holiday season. Enthusiastically accept invitations and opportunities to get in front of people who may help you find a new job opportunity, or make some new connections. For people out of work, getting out to mingle can sometimes seem daunting, but fight through the anxiety. In this economy, there is no shame in being unemployed and most people are eager to help in any way they can.

Skip the hard sell: In-person networking, particularly at less formal holiday gatherings, offers an opportunity to make new connections and rekindle some old ones.  Yet, be wary of selling yourself too hard. Writing recently for, Miriam Salpeter, a job search and social media consultant offered several tips, including avoiding the temptation of turning a casual conversation into an impromptu job interview.  “Make sure people don’t sense that you have an agenda when you meet them,” Salpeter writes.

Hone your elevator pitch: If a conversation does turn to business, make sure you are prepared. If you are unemployed, have a clear, succinct explanation of your current status, then pivot quickly to a brief 30-second elevator pitch that touches on how you are uniquely qualified for the type of role you are seeking.  If you currently have a job, don’t seem desperate for a new one – just emphasize you’re always keep an eye out for a new challenge and highlight the type of role you’re interested in.

Do lunch: Many job seekers suspend their job search during the holiday season. Big mistake. Many companies have finalized budgets and are already seeking out candidates who can hit the ground running in the New Year. While some workplaces are buried in the end-of-year crush, others slow down considerably, potentially opening up schedules for hiring managers and other professionals. For job seekers, that provides the ideal opening to invite a potential employer (or someone else who can help in your search) to lunch . In his book, Never Eat Alone, networking guru Keith Ferrazzi offers excellent insights on a range of networking tips, including making the most of your lunch hour.

Follow up: The key to leveraging any face-to face encounter is prompt, professional follow up. If you are making a connection via LinkedIn, make sure you personalize the invitation and mention the recent encounter. Liz Lynch, author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online, suggests a five-step formula for following up after an in-person networking opportunity. She emphasizes the first step is to initiate the follow-up to demonstrate your professionalism and interest in learning more about an opportunity.

Certainly, online networking will continue be the most common means of seeking out new job opportunities. But by adding in-person networking to your search, you can set yourself apart from the competition — and enjoy the holidays a bit more in the process.