Every year on the first day of the new year, we all make resolutions about things we want to accomplish that we’ve struggled with during the previous year. From eating healthier and exercising to reading more books and traveling, there is always something we’d like to do more actively in the future.
It’s time to take a new approach to your New Year’s resolutions this year and benefit your professional life. Make it your mission in 2014 to actually dedicate time to strengthening your network.
1. Kindle your current network.
Start by reaching out to the people you already know. Send emails or handwritten cards to everyone in your network. Wish them a happy New Year. Make your notes personal. This is a great way to reinforce the relationships you’ve already built.
Too often we meet people with whom we plan to form a relationship, and then neglect to keep the conversation going after a few emails. Make it your mission in 2014 to make sure you don’t lose touch with the people in your network. Form bonds that will last through the whole year and long after. After you reignite the spark with a holiday card, remember to continue reaching out throughout the year.
2. Make a list of new people.
Once you’ve focused on your current network, it’s time to continue expanding. Do some research and make a list of people you want to meet. Find a way to connect with them. Look for mutual connections or things you have in common. Then, you can use that link to confidently introduce yourself. Don’t ask for anything specific, just the chance to get to know them and learn about their career. Many professionals will be happy to connect if you make an effort.
3. Use social media to the fullest.
During your career, you’ll hear over and over again the importance of networking. You’ll also hear the great value of social media as a networking too. In 2014, it’s time to sit down and actually use it to its fullest potential. Use it to research companies and form relationships with other professionals. Social media can truly be your way into a connection.
A great tool for social networking is LinkedIn. You can use it to search for pros who work in your ideal industry or company, and find things in common (start with where you went to college). Once you’ve found these people, invite them to connect with you. Don’t just hit send on the generic invitation though. Personalize the message, explaining who you are and why you want to connect. Many people will appreciate your effort and be happy to meet you. And as a bonus, they might be so impressed with your initiative that they remember you the next time they’re hiring.
4. Attend a networking event.
Another good goal for the new year is to leave your comfort zone of networking online. Get out there and attend an actual networking event. This is the perfect opportunity to meet tons of other people in your industry who share the same goals: to meet each other. It’s easy to be intimidated at networking events, but it’s important to remember that everyone is in the same boat.
Try to overcome your nerves and be the person who initiates the conversation. It’s really easy to ask people about themselves, and then the pressure is immediately off you. People love to talk about themselves and you can make it easy for them by asking the questions. Then, when you actually listen to what they say, you’ll both come out of the conversation with a positive experience and a new connection.
5. Always follow up.
The final way you can improve your network in the new year is to make it your goal to always follow up with people. Send thank-you notes after initially meeting and after all interviews (whether they were just informational or for an actual job). Thank anybody and everybody with whom you interact. It sounds unnecessary but it really makes a difference. If you go head to head with another equally qualified job candidate, sending thank-you notes could be the one thing that sets you ahead.
Another important time to follow up is after you’ve been turned down for a job. Although it may feel like the last thing you want to do, it’s incredibly important to say thank you one last time. Plus, if you’re still interested in working for the company, you have one last shot to let them know you’re not discouraged and to ask them for feedback as to why you weren’t selected. You’ll leave a much stronger impression if you handle rejection with grace, and you might even get some advice out of it.
In 2014, you can set some goals for yourself you know you’ll never accomplish, or you can make some truly important resolutions to strengthen your network and your career. If you dedicate some actual effort into networking, you will truly see the results.
What are some other ways you can resolve to strengthen your network?
Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager, and founder of Come Recommended, a content marketing and digital PR consultancy for job search and HR technologies. She’s also the instructor of Find Me A Job: How To Score A Job Before Your Friends, author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internshipsand#ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle, and career and recruiting adviser for numerous outlets.