Got Social Anxiety? Tips to Thrive in the Season of Holiday Parties
‘Tis the season for holiday parties and meetups when many of us have to exercise our “adulting” skills and get professionally social. If you’ve got social anxiety or score high on the introverthis can be a dreaded aspect of the holiday season; especially if you’re in job search mode. It can be challenging enough to find the right words to talk about what you’ve been up to and to think about what questions to ask people at parties, but it’s a little more complicated when you’ve got to find a way to tactfully express that you’re in job search mode.
If you’ve worked with Donna or I, chances are high that you’ve heard us say job search is a social endeavor. The days of searching 100% in front of a computer screen are long gone, but it doesn’t mean you have to become someone you’re not. If you think you need to become an outgoing, suave, social butterfly who moves through the room with movie star charisma, you’ve set the bar way too high. And let me tell you a secret about people, for the most part, we really enjoy authentic communication. We value sincerity over hype. Overall, we’d rather connect than be “talked at.”
So don’t go turning down those party invitations because you never know who knows someone, who knows someone, that has a contact at your target company. Perhaps you’re looking to make a career change and chatting with party guests is a chance to spread the word about your goals in a tactful, engaging way. Fret not. I’ve got some tips for you:
- Give yourself a job until you feel settled.
Walking in to a party and worrying about where to stand, who to strike up conversation with or realizing that none of your friends have arrived yet can spike anxiety levels. You can approach the host and offer to make drinks, take people’s coats or place some appetizers until the initial anxiety calms down. It’s also a way to scope out the party and make quick introductions without getting into heavy conversation right away.
- Give yourself a manageable target.
It’s impossible to talk to every single person at a gathering unless it’s a small dinner party. Give yourself a realistic goal of meeting 3 new people and remember it’s quality over quantity.
- Don’t dive in to the deep end right away.
Just engaging with someone on shared areas of interest can be a nice ice breaker. I went to a holiday gathering a couple years ago and the most introverted person I know had a small crowd gathered around her while she shared her theories about Game of Thrones. It was perfect for her because she sensed their genuine interest and ran with it. Before too long, she had deeper conversations with a few members of her “audience” and made some solid connections.
- Keep it bite-sized.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be asked for your life story. You can work with a friend or a coach on crafting a sweet little elevator pitch and see where the conversation goes. For example: “Since I last saw you, I’ve spent a lot of time gearing up for a big change. Even though everyone knows me as a project manager, I’ve been going to culinary school to become a pastry chef. I’m kind of surprised how much overlap there is with project management and the skills I use in the kitchen. I’m just trying to build my network, learn as much as I can along the way and not eat too much ganache. In a perfect world I’ll be earning my living making wedding cakes by this time next year. How about you? Last time we spoke I think you were trying to land a position closer to home. Did any leads pan out?”
That little elevator pitch just planted a few seeds. It also re-directed the conversation to the other person to show genuine interest in return. If it’s someone you don’t know at all, only minor modifications need to be made. Here’s another example:
“Hi, I’m Roberta. It’s strange to call myself a pastry chef after so many years working as a project manager but this is my year of big change. So, hey, thanks for being one of the first people I introduce myself to as a pastry chef. I’ll be graduating culinary school in January and then I’m going to hit the pavement with a specialty in wedding cakes. And how about you? Tom mentioned your kids play softball together.” (hint: It’s always good to let people in on what you know or remember about them).
- Get some practice.
There are so many ways to get some good practice talking about yourself. You can work with a friend, family member, a career coach or join Toastmasters. Going in cold can be tough. Conversely, re-playing a script in your head on loop can have the opposite effect. It can sound rehearsed and disingenuous.
- Be honest with yourself about how anxiety affects you.
Anxiety comes in many forms. Whether you have sweaty palms when meeting new people, or if you lose sleep for a week in anticipation of a party, or even if you avoid them altogether, consider talking with a therapist. Getting to the root of the anxiety can help you manage it, understand what makes it spike and learn tools for effective self-talk. In some cases, medication may be the right choice. In other cases, maybe some daily meditation and mindfulness can do the trick. But you don’t have to go it alone.
Remember that your network has more power than a full day of sending resumes to open job listings. And you can be yourself and make connections without adopting an alter-ego. So, party on! Enjoy the social part of job searching during a festive time of year.
If you’d like to work with Tava or Donna on crafting an elevator pitch or doing some mock interviews, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author: Tava Auslan, MSEd, ACRW
Senior Coach, Certified Resume Writer
Tava Auslan is a career counselor, certified resume writer and dancer. She received her BA in Psychology from SUNY Purchase and a Counseling Masters from Fordham University. Since 2002 she has partnered with her clients to give them clarity, confidence and concrete strategies for job search. Tava is known for her ability to help people assess their challenges, determine where they are stuck and offer tangible solutions to get them back on track. An astute writer, Tava earned her ACRW credential from Resume Writing Academy and crafts resumes that tell a compelling story for job seekers of all ages and stages. Tava has worked with a broad array of clients ranging from entrepreneurs, project managers, recent grads and engineers.