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A Couple of Ways to Take Advantage of the Holidays

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Bah! Humbug! ̓ Tis the season! Here come the holidays again. Whether you love or hate the holiday season (and I go back and forth), it presents a few opportunities for education job seekers that you should take advantage of. Here are two you might think about.

First, maximize the advantage of holiday networking opportunities. Regardless of what holidays you celebrate, there are likely to be gatherings of various kinds that you will attend. They may be gatherings of family, friends, organizations, or informal groups of associates. Whatever the group, it's a networking opportunity. Though these gatherings may seem insignificant to your profession, no gathering is worthless to a job seeker. Take the chance to visit, to catch up, and to let others know what you're doing and what you're looking for.

We tend to think of networking in a selfish way--that networking means asking people for a job. Networking is not about asking for a job; it's about exchanging information. It's about offering help as much as about asking for help. It's more about establishing relationships than anything else. I often tell students that the time to develop a network is before you need it. It's much easier, and more fruitful, to ask for assistance from someone after you know them and even after you've offered them assistance with something. We are all willing to help people we know, but we're usually more reluctant with someone we just met. "Get to know me first," in other words.

Don't count anyone out. Professional development author and speaker Donald Asher, one of my idols, says that networking is about information, and you never know who has information that might be helpful. Your holiday networking is not likely to bring you into contact with large numbers of people who might have jobs to offer you. However, your contacts know other people, who know other people, and so on. Just keeping those lines of communication open often leads to knowledge of not just employment leads, but to some of your contacts who can help with referrals as well. We try to tell ourselves that "who knows you" is not so important in education employment - that we will be hired on our merits alone - but it is significant, just as in every industry. That principal's golf buddy who happens to be the wife of the teacher whose classroom you volunteered in might be just the advocate you need to help you land that middle school math position you're after.

The second thing to think about for the holidays is the gift-giving with which many of us celebrate. In career services, we talk to students a lot about dress and presenting yourself professionally. Yes, even educators need interview suits! Suits don't have to be terribly expensive, but they do need to fit you well and look professional. If your family gives big gifts, this might be just the right time to ask for a new suit or dress shoes - closed toe, ladies. Guys, Top-Siders are not dress shoes; black wingtips or cap toes are timeless and will never be out of style for dress. Socks that match your suit or shoes are a must - and keep in mind that you will not be wearing a white suit or white shoes! Shirts are a good medium-priced gift.  Women, consider a nice professional blouse (check the neckline, please), and guys, look for a dress shirt (maybe an iron and instructions to go with it, dudes!).

For less money, tasteful accessories are great things to have on your wish list. Gentlemen, forget the Looney Tunes necktie (yes, I have one, but it is NOT an interview power tie!). Perhaps a vinyl- or leather-bound portfolio with a pocket for resumes and a legal pad for notes would be just the thing. Maybe a nice binder for the teaching portfolio artifacts that you take to interviews would work. A quality writing instrument is nice to receive. We all love toys, but this more "grown-up" kind of gift is an investment in your job search and your career that family members like to share.

Above all, the holidays are a time to enjoy family and friends and not get uptight about that job search, whether it's ongoing or upcoming. Just don't forget about it entirely, and watch for the opportunities the holidays present to enhance the search.

Kent McAnally, Director of Career Services

Washburn University, Kansas

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