When she tells college students not to think of the holidays as vacation, Sharon DeLay admits that she sounds like her grandmother. But DeLay, of the Columbus, Ohio-based career consultancy BoldlyGO, insists that today's competitive job market requires students to be aggressive.
"[T]he days of summer and holiday breaks are gone," she says. "Those are for children, not professionals who are preparing to enter the workforce."
University career offices seem to agree. Pace University recently hosted a "Networking for the Holidays" event, and a recent post on a University of Michigan—Ann Arbor blog recommends a lot of holiday relaxing, but also says students should "use the breaks wisely."
At Bentley University in Waltham, Mass., career services officials think that Thanksgiving networking is so important that the school is hosting its third "Thanksgiving Networking Challenge." The student with the most interesting Thanksgiving networking story receives a $50 gift card, says Susan Brennan, managing director of university career services.
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A student won the Thanksgiving challenge in the past for sharing his desire to work in marketing with a train conductor he met while traveling home for the holiday, who then connected him with another passenger. The passenger later offered the student an internship. Brennan says it's important, particularly at Thanksgiving dinner, to recognize that even the least likely people can be helpful.
"Your Uncle Phil, who used to annoy you but works at Goldman Sachs, might be a good resource now that you are looking for an internship or job," she says.
Although it's hard to argue with the fact that holidays can present valuable opportunities to get ahead in a job search, the dilemma of the homeward-bound student is whether to relax or to succumb to the dreaded working holiday.
Dozens of job coaches and university career services staff members recommend that students be aggressive. Many of the coaches echoed similar advice: network as much as possible, polish your résumé, and and think about your goals. But a few offered unique tips.
The holidays are a great time to send greeting cards or E-mails to contacts in your network, says Tiffani Murray, author of Stuck on Stupid: A Guide for Today's Professional Stuck in a Rut. The messages can mention some of students' recent academic achievements and can lead to job or internship opportunities, Murray says.
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Stuart Siegman, director of career services at Berkeley College in New York City, advises students to use E-cards to update friends on their job search.
Students can also use their break to update their professional attire, experts say.
"Take advantage of the Black Friday sales, or add a new suit, shoes, [or] business portfolio to your holiday wish list," says Denise Ward, associate dean for student services at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
Raphael Thomas, a senior at Bentley University—the school with the Thanksgiving challenge—used his winter break last year to network. He wished an investment banking analyst at J.P. Morgan Chase happy holidays via E-mail and expressed an interest in learning more about investment banking. After the analyst responded, Thomas told him he'd be visiting New York from Minnesota and asked if he was available for an informational interview. Not only did the analyst grant an interview, but he also set up four meetings for Thomas with colleagues.
Thomas accepted an offer at a different firm, Credit Suisse, but he says his willingness to pull a working holiday was what got him a final-round interview at J.P. Morgan. He also had an accelerated interview over the holiday break at Credit Suisse. "It's definitely not something people typically do," he says of holiday networking.
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If they are networking on Thanksgiving or other holidays, students should avoid inappropriate behavior, says Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in corporate training.