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Make Business Parties Work for You

Kate Traynor

Before you attend your next office party, contemplate how colleagues will remember you. Will they recall a social pharmacist who spoke intelligently about various topics, a loner who sat beside the potted palm all evening, or someone who made too many trips to the open bar?


Business socializing isn’t the same thing as college partying.

Professional meetings and office parties are best viewed as extensions of the workplace. With the right approach to these social events, you can gain access to the grapevine, solidify friendships, and even give your career a boost.

Work-related social events are great places to network. Management consultant Nick Corcodilos offers a down-to-earth description of what good networking  should be. Though his advice is meant for job hunters, it’s relevant to just about anyone who works for a living.

Even if you don’t want to push your career agenda at an office party, use the event to mingle with colleagues, learn about company culture, and find out about issues that might affect your job. More likely than not, policy changes that will affect your career circulate in the hallways before being officially announced. The friendships that you reinforce at social events can help keep you informed about these important issues.

To make the most of work-related social events, do some research before you attend. Find out who else will be there. If you’ve been looking for an opportunity to discuss a project with a specific colleague, you may get your chance at a party. But don’t bore a coworker who appears more interested in relaxing than talking shop—pay your respects, then ask about setting another time to discuss your project.

Parties at professional meetings offer the chance for socializing with experts in your field. If the list of attendees includes someone you really want to meet, do your homework: Learn about the person and his or her organization. Then at the party, introduce yourself, unless a mutual colleague can introduce you. Prepare for the meeting, and you pave the way for a brief, informed conversation that leaves the expert with a good impression of you.

An open bar and buffet offer perils along with free refreshment. Don’t overindulge in alcohol—you may regret what you say or do when under the influence. And maneuvering a tiny plate overloaded with hors d’oeuvres can result in embarrassing trails of sauce down your front, so keep the portions small. Go back for seconds if you’re still hungry.

When in doubt about what to wear to a party, dress conservatively. If you’re shy or nervous, knowing that you’re dressed like a professional can boost your self-confidence and make it easier for you to mingle with people.

You don’t need to stay at the party all night. But do stay long enough to thank and exchange a few words with the people who have helped you at work. Don’t fade into the background, then slip out unnoticed—at least say a friendly good-bye to your supervisor and the party host.

Former Getty Oil Co. executive J. Richard Earley recommends that employees attend as many work-related functions as possible and remember to have fun. For those interested, Early also has specific suggestions for making the most of office events.