Here are some rules for effective networking at parties gathered from the experts at Entrepreneur, Forbes and Monster.com, who agree, there’s no denying holiday parties provide an invaluable opportunity to connect with colleagues, meet new people and strengthen your professional network.

And since networking is the single best way, they say, to land a job and keep your career healthy, here are some smart ways to join in the festivities.

Arrive with goals in mind. When you attend a networking event you should have a set goal in mind. For example, you might want to establish three connections that can develop into business relationships. Do the same with holiday parties. Go in with a goal and work the crowd until you meet and exceed that initial goal.

Dress the part and participate. A festive tie or holiday-themed earrings are certainly suitable; however, don’t treat the holiday party like a real party, Oliver says. “It’s actually work, and you should dress accordingly,” she says. “If you’re female, dress conservatively [and] make sure you’re not revealing to much cleavage.”

What to Say

Talk less, listen more. Smart networkers focus on asking good questions. “Do more listening than talking (two ears, one mouth — for a reason),” notes Susan Joyce in her Job-Hunt.org article, “Holiday Networking: Party Your Way to a New Job.”

Kathleen Brady, a career coach and author of Get A Job! 10 Steps to Career Success, says there are hidden benefits to being the inquisitor. “Asking questions that are ‘other focused’ allows you to uncover who might be in a position to help you,” she says. “It also allows you to begin to build rapport and establish relationships.”

By asking questions, you’ll avoid talking too much or too little, problems that often plague nervous job seekers and introverts.

Limit shop talk. When you’re at office parties, it’s fine to have some work-related conversation (and always nice to compliment your co-worker or boss in front of their spouse or partner). But mix things up a bit with a touch of the personal.

Ask your co-workers questions about their families, hobbies or interests. That’s a nice way to get to know them better. You’ll undoubtedly discover new connections and commonalities.

Avoid touchy subjects. In general, it’s wise to steer clear of politics, religion and hot-button social issues (think the recent presidential election or abortion).

Keep it low-key. A holiday party is first and foremost a social event. So even if you’re desperate to find work, avoid a full-court networking press.

“Your first objective is to establish a connection that provides a context for future contact,” says Brady. “This is not the time or place to close the deal. Think about it as creating an on-ramp to building a relationship with the person. You can call to set up a follow-up meeting after the holidays.”

What to Do

Break away from your crew. It never fails — at every holiday party there are always cliques of people that know each other. They are either friends or co-workers and they will stay in the corner the entire time talking amongst themselves. You aren’t going to network and meet new people staying in your comfort zone, so break out of your bubble and meet new people. Introduce yourself, shake hands and socialize.

Leverage acquaintances for more effective introductions.

If there is a particular individual that you want to be introduced to, connect with someone that knows them and get a proper introduction. Any time a mutual acquaintance makes an introduction it is less awkward and the ice is immediately broken. 

Go with the Flow. Don’t monopolize anyone, don’t interject yourself into obviously private conversations and don’t brush someone off just because he’s not on your “target list” of people to talk to.

If your game plan goes awry, you may need to improvise. Oliver offers a tip on “shaking” someone who has glued herself to your side. “One ploy is to ask if you can grab her a drink,” she says. “Then quickly circulate the room before getting her the drink you promised.”

If You Want to Mingle, Go Single. Oliver says that it’s often better to arrive at an office party by yourself, even if other people bring significant others. “Your mission is to get along with everyone, talk to a few higher-ups and get out of there in one piece,” she says. “You’ll be better able to accomplish your goals if you are not saddled with another person who isn’t part of the office gang.”

However, you might be surprised at how interesting – and sometimes helpful – a spouse/date might prove to be.

Offer your business card (and ask for one). You’ll want a way to stay in touch with key people you meet after the event, so be sure to ask for a card before ending a valuable conversation and give that person yours.

If you’re out of work and don’t have a business card through an employer, offer a networking card that has your name, job objective or professional tag line, e-mail address, phone number, LinkedIn profile URL and Twitter handle.

But please don’t even think of bringing your resumé to a holiday party. “It is a party, not a job fair,” says Brady. “Handing out your resumé there reeks of desperation.”

Know your alcohol limits. Having a few drinks at holiday parties is fine, but Jägerbomb until you can’t stand up could crush your credibility. Don’t be “that guy” at the party. You want people to remember you because you made a great impression, not for your ability to make a tequila bottle disappear.

Follow up. After the parties are over, get back in touch with the people you met who could be useful to your career.

e-mail and a personalized invitation to connect on LinkedIn (not the auto-connect version LinkedIn offers). If you find an article or video you think might interest someone you chatted with, send it along with a note referencing your meeting.

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