NEW YORK – 'Tis the season for drinking eggnog, playing Secret Santa – and job hunting.
So say experts who have deemed office holiday parties, charity events and personal soirees as the perfect opportunities to press the flesh with potential employers.
"You have lots of social events you can go to and network with people," said Richard Bayer, chief operating officer of The Five O'Clock Club, a national career coaching organization. "And you have less competition because most people believe they can sit back and take the holiday off."
Career experts say with the nation's unemployment rate at 6 percent, the holiday season is an ideal time to meet and greet those who might otherwise be difficult to reach.
"Hiring managers don't travel as much during the season so they are more available," Bayer said from his New York City office. "That person's also doing the budget at this time of year and is getting an idea of the next year, so this is a good time to be there, in front of their face."
Job-searching experts say the party season also offers a more laid back atmosphere to get to know people.
"I've been selectively doing networking during the holiday season, going to parties of friends," said Martha Donovan, an investment and asset manager who's been unemployed for a year and a half. "They are more relaxed. It's a lot easier to make a connection with someone."
But making contacts at otherwise purely social events can be tricky. Even desperate job seekers should keep their cool.
"You have to be tactful, talk about other things," Bayer advised. "Avoid too much of short run view, as in 'Can you hire me tomorrow' … If you keep in touch with people, something might come up down the road."
Donovan said that while her job search has been frustrating at times, she doesn't dwell on it – especially at parties.
"You don't want to come across as desperate and unhappy about the process," she said. "It's nice to go to these and be upbeat. And as people get to know you, they feel more comfortable helping you."
Diane Darling, chief executive of Effective Networking in Boston, said this is the time of year to turn on the charm, but not necessarily wave around the resume.
"Personality counts for a lot," she said. "You have to be fun, be someone people want to be around, have an interesting conversation."
Darling suggests being informed by reading the front page of the newspaper every day and being a good listener as good tools for connecting with strangers at a party. "You want to communicate a positive experience between two people," she said.
Darling also suggests steering clear of the hot buttered rum or spiked punch. She advises job-hunters to "alternate a glass of wine and then a glass of water."
But how do potential employers feel about being hit up for work while they're sipping eggnog?
"I'm meeting a lot of interesting people and I'm willing to chat," said Alec Stern, 42, a vice president at Roving Software Inc. in Waltham, Mass., who is also a self-described networker. "If there's a way I can assist them, that's great."
Stern, who is involved in several charities, said he's most impressed by people who, despite being unemployed, are willing to give their time and even money to worthy causes.
"If someone is supporting a fundraiser or on a committee, you feel you want to help them," he said. "This time of year a lot of people are trying to help others. It's a season of giving."
While Donovan said she hasn't gotten any definitive leads this season, she's still hopeful.
"I'm incredibly optimistic. Is it hard every day to say you're happy about being in this place? Yes it is. But what are the alternatives?" she said. "It's just getting someone to cut you that break. You just need one job offer. It'll happen."