Easy ways to develop your career during the holidays

Believe it or not, there are surprisingly simple ways to develop your career during the holidays and make the most out of virtual and in-person gatherings this December.

Before the pandemic, career experts touted holiday gatherings as great opportunities for networking. (For example, you can find such advice here and here.)

For most smart and caring women, however, the level of activity increases this time of year in their already busy lives. As a client said recently, “There is so much I need to do…teacher gifts, photo cards, make tentative travel plans and backup plans…. You want me to squeeze in networking, too?”

non-networking guide
Photo by TaniaVdB

Dreaded questions

Not surprisingly, many of those uncertain of their careers rather enjoyed skipping social events during the pandemic. It was easier to avoid questions or comments.

For example,

  • The mom not currently employed dreads being asked, “And what do you do?”
  • The employed mom working long hours dislikes hearing “How do you manage being away from your children all the time?” or “I wish I could get away from my kids more often!”
  • Anyone dissatisfied with her career situation doesn’t like being told the obivous “You’re still at that job you hate? You should quit!”
  • The tentative entrepreneur meaning to try something (anything) new fears the innocent question, “What have you been up to?”
  • The tortured writer stings at the question, “So, when are you going to write that book?”

[I know how this feels all too well, because, at some point in my life, I dreaded each of these questions.]

In theory, holiday events can be a good time to get in some networking. But, why add pressure to our already stressful lives this time of year? And, when you’re feeling overwhelmed, how effective would the networking actually be?

The thing is that most smart and caring women already know how to have good conversations. All you need are some reminders to make the most out of the ones you have this season.

Seven easy tweaks

Keep things light and easy by focusing on making meaningful connections. Here are some things to try:

Start with some prep

Fortify yourself by remembering the good. Try extending Thanksgiving and appreciate what is going right. Set a timer and quickly make a list of all of the things, big and small, you are thankful for. Then, try to make your list as long as possible. In fact, think of making yourself a scroll! You can “cheat” by not writing just “My children” but also jotting down all the things you appreciate about each child. Stretch it out.

Don’t underestimate this first step. Because our brains are wired to spot out threats, we need to retrain it and make a deliberate effort to see the positive. In doing so, we boost our moods almost instantly and fortify ourselves.

Don’t set any objectives or expectations.

Don’t tell yourself you should try to talk to so-and-so or reach out to X number of people. In a similar vein, don’t anticipate what can go wrong at a holiday gathering. Just see what happens.

Ask yourself, “I wonder what will surprise me?”


At any interaction or gathering, try to really listen to each person you come in contact with. Don’t worry about the impression you are making. When forming impressions, people unknowingly give more credence to how you make them feel, rather than to what it is you say. So, you don’t need to worry about saying something clever or smart. You shouldn’t need to worry about yourself at all. Remember most people are worried about themselves not about you anyway.

Asking what you’re curious about

If you’ve been listening carefully, it’s easy to ask good questions that extend the conversation. Usually, you can ask what you’re most curious about. This helps to demonstrate interest, acknowledge your companion’s contributions, and validate his/her feelings–all of which will leave a better impression than anything you do to try to impress.

Practice giving one-line answers

When others ask the dreaded question “What have you been up to?” or “What do you do?” have a short answer ready that you can give with a smile. Whether you simply say, “I’m a stay-at-home mother” or something funny like, “I’m an expert in chaos management,” find a reply that feels comfortable to you.

Practice by repeating it aloud in the mirror. After giving your one-line answer, ask the other person your own question (see the tip above).

Be a connector

Introduce attendees to one another at the gathering. If you’ve asked questions, it will be easier to bring others together. Connecting with others is likely to make you feel good. Moreover, it can give you the opportunity to step aside and take a break.


At the end of an encounter or gathering, reflect on what you’ve learned. If there happens to be a lesson you want to remember, jot it down; it will help reinforce the lesson. If possible, try to come up with one baby step based on that lesson that you might test out in the coming weeks.

Your turn

Do you have any good tips for the holidays or for networking conversations?

Please let me know!

This is a revised and updated version of an older article first published in November 2014.