If you are like me, you abandoned your New Year’s resolution months ago. Of course, my intentions are always good, but keeping that promise to myself each year typically ends in disappointment. For those of you who are still going strong, I salute you!  But for the rest of us who’s New Year’s promises have fizzled, I challenge that we set a mid-year resolution – one that we can keep! Let’s spend the rest of 2009 building a larger, stronger NETWORK!

You’ve all heard the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (or who knows you)” and whether we like it or not, it’s true. For current job seekers, creating meaningful connections allows you to gather information about a specific type of work, organization, or interesting opportunity. These networking opportunities can further your career, both during the search and after landing the job. However, networking isn’t just useful to the job seeker – it’s useful to everyone.  Are you new to the area and want to meet the locals? Are you currently a stay-at-home mom who is planning on returning to work? Looking for physician recommendations? Interested in building or expanding your own business? Searching for reliable childcare? Networking is a strategic component of life, and those that spend time making quality connections are promoting themselves, and getting what they want.

How Do You Build Your Network?

Building your network begins with your inner circle and moves outward. Grab a pen and piece of paper (yes, right now) and make a list of your family and friends. This is your inner circle. Now add to this list your dentist, your nanny, your neighbor, your mail carrier, etc. However far removed, these people are also part of your network, and often times are more valuable than your family and friends in terms of contacts. For instance, let’s say you know 50 people, and these people each know 50 people. That’s a lot of contacts, right? But there’s a catch. You and your close friends probably know many of the same people, creating an overlap in contacts, ultimately minimizing your larger circle. Therefore, the people you know the least provide the most potential for new contacts!   By initiating conversations with all your daily connections, be it the receptionist at the doctor’s office or your daughter’s preschool teacher, you will begin to build quality relationships. This is how your network grows by degrees — by connecting with the people you know, so they have the opportunity to connect you to the people they know (and who you want to know)!  

Networking doesn’t have to be unpleasant, but it does take effort.  Because networking is a social skill, you can network in almost any situation, as long as you’re willing to initiate a conversation, show confidence, and listen. Opportunities for networking can be found in everyday social meetings: the local coffee shop, the supermarket, or even a PTA meeting. There are also over 200 on-line social networking sites, many of them devoted to connecting professionals to each other. Social networking sites provide great opportunities to make connections, and because it is done online, there are no geographical restrictions. As a general rule of self-promotion, make yourself as visible as possible.

Practice Makes Perfect

Meaningful networking is an ongoing activity. Once you’ve identified and started to build your network, it’s time to cultivate these relationships. Smart professionals are constantly developing and maintaining connections throughout their lives. Reach out to people by phone, email or in person, and make it clear that you are looking forward to your contact with them for information and advice. Networking is all about fostering goodwill and shared knowledge; be prepared to reciprocate in any way possible. You will be surprised by how many people are willing to keep in touch and to help – for their benefit, and for yours!