By Kristine Schoonmaker, MyConsultingLife.Com
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Consultants often have a very full social calendar during the work week. Team dinners are a frequent occurrence and a great way to build camaraderie when you spend Monday to Thursday away from home. It's also a common way to encourage relationship building with clients and celebrate big milestones. How you handle yourself in these situations can significantly impact your professional image and your career for the good, or the bad. Here are 6 tips to not only survive, but help you make the most of these occasions.
1.Blend in with your dress. After hours events can present an interesting dilemma when it comes to dress. Always check with the event organizer in advance to confirm the attire for the evening. If team-building type activities are planned, more casual dress may be appropriate. On the flip-side, big celebrations might call for cocktail attire. When in doubt, a safe bet is to stick with business attire. This is one occasion you might not want to "stand out" for your looks!
2.Be prompt. In your personal life you may prefer to arrive fashionably late to parties, but this is not the time. Treat this event with the same importance you would a client meeting and be on time. Arriving late shows a complete lack of respect for everyone else’s time. And, if you think arriving late because you were tied up with an assignment will show your dedication, think again. What it really says is that you don't know how to properly manage your time!
3.Make considerate and appropriate food choices. Just because this meal is on the company dime does not mean you should order the most expensive thing on the menu. Taking advantage is poor form. As a general practice, I like to follow the lead of those senior to me or my client. Selecting an entrée that is middle of the road in price point is always a good practice. Also consider those in your party and the intent of the function when making your selection. If the person next to you is a vegetarian, a bloody steak in the face may not be the best way to build a rapport with them.
4.Engage new people in conversation. While some may dread this type of event, it can be a great way to forge new and deeper relationships with people. If there is a senior executive you look up to, or a client you’d like to know better, try to sit near them. Keep the tone of the conversation professional – just because this is a social setting doesn’t mean you should let it all hang out. Your professional image is still being shaped by what you say and do. But, don’t just talk about work either. After a long day, people want to talk about things besides work, like family, interests, or current events. These are great topics to help you understand each other as individuals, which can lead to greater trust. Just be sure to stay away from politics and religion.
5.Mind your booze and cues. This should be stating the obvious, but any event with co-workers or clients is NOT the occasion to resurrect your title as "Frank (or Frances) the Tank." Social drinking is fine, but limit your consumption to couple of drinks. If you prefer not to drink but want to appear "social" you can always order club soda & lime. No one will ever know. Take your cues from those in your party. If everyone is ordering cocktails, feel free to join in one or two if you like. If no one is ordering drinks, it may not be appropriate to do so. If wine is the choice of the evening that may be more appropriate for the occasion.
6.Don’t overstay your welcome. Find a balance in how long you stay at an event. Rushing out the door might give the impression you are anti-social, whereas lingering too long can be a problem as well. Understand the agenda for the evening and look for logical exit points, such as when the formal events are winding down or when the majority of people begin to leave. Unless you have a once in a lifetime networking opportunity, you don’t want to be the last one to close it down for the night.
Kristine Schoonmaker is The Career & Lifestyle Coach for Consultants and founder of MyConsultingLife.com. Her bi-weekly ezine Accelerate offers practical insider advice and quick tips from a former consulting exec to help YOU take greater control of your career and stay engaged in your personal life from the road. If you’re ready to have it all—an amazing career in consulting without giving up the lifestyle, relationships and experiences you want, get your FREE subscription now at www.myconsultinglife.com.