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Out of work? Hit the party circuit, but bring tact

By Christine Romans, CNN
Don't drink too much or sound too desperate while networking for a job at a holiday party.
Don't drink too much or sound too desperate while networking for a job at a holiday party.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Holiday parties are a good way to do networking, but do it right
  • You'll spend about 15 hours at holiday gatherings, Consumer Reports says
  • Don't drink too much; don't be too aggressive or negative; don't sound desperate
  • Have a 30-second soft-sell; ask for business card if appropriate
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Editor's note: Christine Romans is anchor of CNN's "Your $$$$$" and author of the new book "Smart Is the New Rich: If You Can't Afford It, Put It Down."

(CNN) -- All I want for Xmas is a job!

According to Consumer Reports, you'll spend an average of 15 hours at holiday gatherings this year. That means plenty of opportunities for networking for a job. The trick is to do it tactfully or don't do it at all.

If you are out of work, you'd be crazy to skip the holiday party scene. You might not feel like going, but put on a tartan plaid tie or a little black dress and get out the door.

Have a 30-second pitch -- a soft-sell, if you will -- at the ready in case you run into an old work colleague or a make a new connection who may be in the position to hire.

It should be something simple, like, "I've been volunteering and doing some research in (insert your field here) since the layoffs this summer. But I'm ready to get back in. I've got some great ideas for how to increase sales. Let me know if you hear of anyone ready to start moving forward in this economy."

Sound smart (and sober)

Small talk is critical. Ask questions, don't just talk about yourself, and be well-read on news and the economy so you can sound current.

If you're Generation Y, troll for internships or part-time work, or ask whether you can do research for your uncle's college roommate's wife's advertising agency (or whoever it is you land next to at the dinner table or on New Year's Eve.) Just getting a foot in the door is key right now, because businesses are more likely to hire temp work or part-time before they are sure the economy is stronger. Then, there you are, already there and willing to move up.

Do not drink too much, and do not be too aggressive or negative.

Don't sound desperate, either. "If I don't get a job by January, I am going to lose the house." Who wants to hire the buzz-kill at the holiday party? Keep it brief, focused and light. If the conversation appears to be going your way, ask for a business card. If it doesn't, cut your losses and move on. The key here is mixing a little bit of job-hunting "business" with holiday "pleasure."

Job experts see a treasure trove for job-seekers at these holiday gatherings. Etiquette experts are more circumspect.

Peter Post, great-grandson of manners doyenne Emily Post and director of the Emily Post Institute, advises against walking into a party and attacking guests, asking for a job.

"But if you are having a conversation with a person, almost naturally one of the things a person asks is, 'How are you doing? How are things going in your life?' At which point, that allows you to say, 'you know, I'm actually in between jobs, and I am really looking for something, and if you were to ever hear of something, I'd sure appreciate knowing it.' "

"But to overtly walk up and say, 'Hi, John, nice to meet you. I hear you work for So-and-so Company and you are the HR person, and I'd love to come in and see you next week.' That's not the way to do it."

Post ran an ad agency for 20 years and said he routinely found new clients at parties. The same holds true for jobs today, if handled with "tact, honesty and a little bit of restraint."

Follow up

If you've had a nice, brief connection with someone at a holiday party, don't be afraid to ask the host or hostess a few days later whether it would be okay to call or e-mail that person with your résumé. If the host is your friend, they will be glad to help.

Holiday parties, of course, should not be your only job-search technique. But with 4.6 job-seekers for every available position, every little connection helps to put you ahead of the line for a job