A beginner's guide to successful networking

Hannah Foxcroft on the best way to 'schmooze' to the top
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The Independent Online
If you want to use the office Christmas party to network your way to the top, be warned. There are no formulae, no right or wrong ways to network, "schmooze"or "be political", but there are some points to take on board, so that by the time you leave the party you are not heading down the career ladder rather than up it.

In these days of short-term contracts, some employees feel they must attend the office party. Cary Cooper, an organisational psychologist at Umist, explains: "We feel we should be seen at these do's, to be able to make a commitment just as we do by coming in early to the office and leaving late at night."

Attending a function where you don't know many people is hard, claims Professor Robert Edlemann, a consultant psychologist. Many more people are anxious about these events than they would care to admit, he says. "The worst thing to do is head over to the drinks and just stand there. It is important to make the first step, the instant you enter. Scan the room, look for a friendly face and just go up to someone, and introduce yourself."

Tracking down a senior manager in order to spend half-an-hour impressing him or her with all your achievements, however, does you no favours. You'll probably bore him or her and will be remembered in a highly unfavourable way. "Seeking out influential people might work, but the chances are they will know what game you are playing and you will be seen as a sycophant, and it would be counter productive," explains Professor Cooper.

Nor should you use this opportunity to air some of your grievances. According to Hilton Catt, co-author of The Power of Networking, you should never "whinge and whine" about the job you are doing, nor should you "run down your colleagues - if you have any opinions on the people you work with, you keep them to yourself". Obvious, perhaps? Not so, judging by the number of people who have a glass or two of Chardonnay and find they can't wait to have a moan.

"Telling somebody in a higher position about a certain achievement can be important," points out a senior director at an international bank. "The recipient would probably like to know what has been achieved. But do not talk too long," he adds. "Judge who you are talking to, watch their eye movements, if they start to look over your shoulder then you know that it is time to move on."

Indeed, your social skills are probably more important than your office achievements. Talking about family and hobbies can often help when it comes to finding a common link between you and a colleague whatever their position in the company, claims Professor Cooper, and this could help you stand out against the other party-goers. Having established what to say to your boss, and for how long, pay attention to the clothes you wear and how much you drink. The Christmas party should not be about dressing up like a Christmas decoration. What you wear has a huge bearing on the image you want to create. Experts believe that how you dress not only reflects your ambition, but how you feel about your job and how good you are at it. It is all about professional image, and an office Christmas party should retain more than a trace of respectability.

Warnings about over-indulging in festive booze may seem old-hat, but, don't go too far the other way either. Refusing a drink may be considered just as ill-mannered as being paralytic.

In the end, says Professor Cooper, the trick is to reveal something of your real self. Don't hide behind a mask but don't exaggerate your personality either. That way, the next time you meet your contacts, they won't be disappointed.