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career insider

Surviving the Office Holiday Party Season

During the next few weeks, many of us will be attending company parties. This is a joyful and happy time for co-workers to share the holiday spirit. Unfortunately, some will permanently derail their careers while others will move forward by making the right choices.

The following advice is fundamental and I hope you can use this to enhance your career or to help you sidestep the corporate quicksand of the party season.


Eat a snack before you arrive. Don't be the person hanging out at the appetizer table, gobbling food and drink. An early snack will also delay the effects of alcohol. Eggnog with alcohol can sneak up on an empty stomach. Pace yourself with both food and drink. Remember that people are watching you, some hoping you will self-destruct.


This is not the time to wear your sexy tight-fitting, show-off-your-body clothes. Depending on the type of party, formal or very casual, make sure you dress in the mid-range. Do not overdress to impress. If attending with a date or spouse, be sure they're prepped for the party's style and probable dress code.

Good manners reveal your promotability besides your job skills. Greet everyone in a friendly manner; introduce your date/spouse to all. Do not complain or criticize the food, the service, music selection or decor. The party environment is one of the few times when you'll be face to face with senior managers up to the CEO. This is a choice time; it's priceless for the senior managers to connect your face and name. Be sure to introduce yourself and your date/spouse to senior management. If you're a manager, never ask a subordinate to wait on you or get you food or drink. Remember, the boss' spouse is taking mental notes on who looks good.


Very few partygoers end up dancing with a lampshade on their head, but many make the same stupid lampshade-type verbal blunders. Sexual, racist, sexist, religious, or ethnic comments, even in jest, can lead to career exile. Keep the joke-telling to a minimum. This is not the time to break in your stand-up comedy routine. Office hanky-panky is the main ingredient of the gossip grapevine. This isn't the time to make a move on someone you're interested in for a more personal relationship. Avoid the touchy-feely temptation when alcohol lowers your inhibitions.


This is the classic and most common party mistake. All of a sudden, your words start to run together and even you're not clear on what you're trying to communicate. Did you ask, “What was the question again?” If you sense that you're about to make a fool of yourself. . . make up a good excuse and leave the party at once.


Unless there's a personal or family tragedy, you must attend. Not attending may be perceived as a passive attempt to flaunt your discontent. Your boss will notice and remember your possible lack of motivation. When attending, arrive just a little late. Don't be the first to arrive and don't be the first to leave. Don't show up very late just to put in a half-hour appearance and leave early.


Review the party's guest list as soon as possible. Target the key people you want to meet and impress. There may be executives from other companies invited and you can use your meeting with them as a foundation for future employment or business opportunities.

PLEASE NOTE: emails received become the property of "Dear Headhunter" and may be published unless otherwise requested. Questions may be edited for content and length. All questions will be reviewed, some without a reply.

George Gurney has been a leader in the employment industry since 1976. He founded an executive search firm that conducts domestic and international assignments.  He has won numerous awards for recruiting excellence.  He has been a guest speaker at national conventions and seminars.