An Intern’s Guide to Surviving the Office Christmas Party

Lights decorating the streets, mulled wine in the air, Mariah Carey on loop in the supermarket – it’s the holiday season! You know what happens during the holiday season? Your boss uncharacteristically pays for your entire company to eat, drink and spend time together outside of work – all in the name of an office Christmas party!  Ah, the office Christmas party! Most employees approach this event with sheer joy, some with mild indifference. But for the intern or young graduate, this can be unchartered territory.

Don’t worry, young grasshopper. We’re going to guide you through this lucrative affair. IA wants to make sure you avoid the potential pitfalls of the evening and shine like the star new employee that you are.

Our intern Nadia has devised four simple golden rules to surviving the office Christmas party. Take note.

1. This is not a club.


I know, I know – the collision of such contrasting words as “office,” “christmas” and “party” has sent the one mildly style-conscious bone in your body into a confused frenzy. How does one dress for the office, a party, and christmas all at once? Do I pin tinsel to my tie over my mesh tank top. Do I wear my Santa’s helper outfit, but add non-prescription glasses to emphasise business?

No, most definitely not. You don’t do any of that because you will look ridiculous. They name it “Office Christmas Party” to try and confuse you, you see. The secret is to not dress for any of these events specifically, or attempt to amalgamate dress practices from across all three.

So what do you wear? At the base line, it comes down to what kind of party it is, where it is, and what kind of company you work for. You’ll know that if you work for a trendy start-up in Shoreditch, wearing sneakers to your christmas party (in fact wearing almost any streetwear to your office party) will probably earn you ‘cred.’ If you’re interning with an investment bank, you should probably dress like you’re meeting your in-laws parents for the first time over an evening meal in Marylebone. If the invite says ‘Wear your ugliest Christmas jumper,’ guess what you get to wear, buddy?!   

Use your head. Know your company. If you’re still a little lost, ask your fellow workmates what they would wear. Finally, as you’re walking out the door, ask yourself if the outfit you have on made an appearance during your fresher week or your summer abroad in the Ibiza. If yes, you should turn around and change into something without an alcohol related slogan on it.

2. Know thy names.


You’ve been in the office for about 4 months now. From your cubicle in the back of the copy room, you don’t really get much of a chance to interact with the rest of the company. Out of disdain, you decided that you didn’t really want to get to know anyone anyway. You like your isolation! The hum of the fax machine is like the soothing trickle of a mountain stream to your ears.

The downfall of this (excuse the pun) is that when you are introduced back into office society, names and faces evade you. Though you’re affectionately referred to as “the intern,” and people easily identify you by your fresh-faced, wide-eyed terror, you have little to no idea who half these people are. You peer around the room, searching for the communications intern you met at the mixer, who you plan to cling to like a life buoy. Unfortunately, your eyes manage to glean the attention of someone else. An old man with a kind face makes eye contact, smiles and waves, and begins a slow migration towards you.

CRAP. Those eyes. They scream familiarity, but all other details escape you. Are you in accounts? Is this man Paul who I’ve been e-mailing in HR? Wait… that can’t be the CEO? Wasn’t he in The Times last Tuesday? Oh for the love of –

The consequences of mistaking the CEO for Kenny the mail guy could be dire. To save the awkwardness of such career-ending errors, make sure you locate an index of company profiles before the night. You want to have at the very least the executive team and senior management down pat (first and last names, and minor professional details).

You want to be able to greet the oncoming migratory man with the knowledge that he is Bert Longfellow, the COO, who recently published a commentary in The Times on the pay-gap in the financial sector. Make some witty quips about skiing with the family in Aspen. Toast to the recent blacklisting of a competitor company. Ooze slightly stalker-ish personal knowledge and sophistication. You got this.

3. Carbo-load before hand.


You have to treat the christmas party like an intense work out. Though your salary may be the equivalent of one of the partners lunch expenses for a week, this does not mean that you have the right to man the platter of mini quiches. Even if all you could afford to eat this month is packet noodles, the office party is unfortunately not the time to avenge your hunger.

You have to fight the budget student within you that hears the word “FREE” and fills their arms with as much samosa as they can carry. Not only will this increase the likelihood of you walking around for the evening with grease stains all down your shirt. It’s also difficult for anyone to understand you with a mouthful of pastry.

So for God’s sake, have meal beforehand. This is a marathon not a sprint. Athletes are recommended to have a meal compromised of low-GI carbohydrates, such as pasta, the night before competing. You can take yourself this seriously and make some mac n’ cheese, or prep your body with a meal deal from Boots – just make sure you don’t go on an empty stomach.

Once at the party, I would aim to clock 1 mini treat per every 20 minute interval. The approach that works best is a slow graze, rather than stuffing yourself like a turkey for roasting. Grazing works in that it optimizes metabolic function, releasing continuous and sustained levels of insulin into the blood. Following this method, you’ll remain lively and alert during your boss’ inevitable speech on how they passed up an opportunity to pursue a career on the stage. It will also give you an excuse to escape said speech if it starts to reach 20 minutes in length.

“People compared me to a young Kenneth Breanargh!”

“That’s fascinating, Mark, please tell me – oh are those the soft-shell crab rolls? I simply must try one!”

Exit stage left.

4. Make like a bride on her wedding night.


This. This is the big one. If you’ve been a bride, know a bride, have seen a bride on the big screen, you know that there is one tip the doting mother ALWAYS gives her daughter.

One glass of champagne, and then water for the rest of the night.

Maybe down the line, when you own the company and have a house in the Bahamas, getting wild at the Christmas party will be amusing for everyone and have no serious consequences except for a very serious hangover. But remember yourself – know who you are.

You are intern. Bottom of the office food-chain. People are waiting for you to stuff up so they can direct attention away from their own stuff ups. Usually they won’t care enough to watch you for the entire evening. But if you start singing a rendition of “Tiny Dancer” a cappella, they will notice.

The biggest issue with drinking several bottles of Prosecco is that you’re not going to remember it, but everyone else might. There’s nothing worse then telling a senior exec the extended edition of why you and Jamie broke up, and not being able to recall the fact you described your teenage boyfriends manga collection in great detail. Trust me.

Have a beer or two, then switch to the H20. Your boss will value your restraint, and you will value your capacity to not share uncomfortable information with people who really, really don’t want to know.

If you follow these rules, you’ll have a great time (which you remember) and you will keep a hold of that internship you worked so hard for. If you don’t, I take no responsibility for the success of your evening. If you haven’t got a Christmas party to go to, let us help you get a paid internship or grad position over on Intern Avenue 🙂

Season’s Greeting!

Nadia and the IA Team

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