The new year is the time we make resolutions about almost every aspect of our lives, including our careers. If you’re ready for a fresh start in 2023, here are some ideas to get your career off to a good start. Click here to read the previous tip.
Your network is one of the foundations of your career success; it should be a consistent source of advice, support, leads and inspiration. It should also provide a sense of connection to people who are successful (both in your industry and others) and people you like and admire.
The pandemic shutdowns took an enormous toll on networking. We lost many of our connections as companies laid off staff and events were canceled. Virtual meetings and networking tried to fill the gap, but we discovered that screens can never replace the energy of in-person connections and the buzz of conversation in a room.
Not only did we lose opportunities for networking, we also lost some of our skills. Many introverts found it hard to get back into the habit of networking after cocooning for months or years working from home. Young people just starting their careers missed out on opportunities to hone skills like small talk, follow up, and asking for meetings or advice. Even extraverted networking pros found that they needed to pep talk themselves into attending large gatherings, even when the felt safer being closer to other people again. Plus – we have to wear heels again?
So let’s make 2023 your year to get back to building a stronger and more connected network.
Step One: Assess who you know and who you’d like to know better. Take a look through your contacts. Who have you lost touch with over the past year? Make a list of people you’d like to reconnect with and put them on your calendar. Make a resolution to reach out by phone or email to one or two contacts a day. The New Year gives you the perfect opening to reach out. “My New Year’s resolution is to reconnect with people in the industry whose work I admire. (Mention a project, award, or volunteer work the person has been recognized for.) I’d love to get together for coffee if you have some time over the next few weeks. (Or mention that you look forward to seeing her at an upcoming meeting or event.)”
You can also reach out to thank someone for past support (don’t overlook people inside your company or with whom you’ve served on a committees or projects.) Another great way to make a connection is to look for interesting industry articles or ones that you know the other person would be interested in. Pass them along with a brief note. You can also invite someone to an upcoming meeting or event as your guest.
Of course, you could always schedule a talk. A real talk. On the phone.
I can hear gasps from the audience. No one talks on the phone anymore. Here’s a great article by New York Times writer Jancee Dunn on the power of an 8-minute phone call. It’s part of a series called the 7-Day Happiness Challenge – and, from my experience, hearing a friend or colleague’s voice creates happiness in a way that a text never will.
Step Two: Make new connections.
All of these tips also work with someone you don’t know yet, but they shouldn’t come out of the blue. Make a list of people you’d like to get to know and make a resolution to meet at least one new valuable connection a month. You don’t want to start making too many connections too quickly because each requires investment to nurture and sustain. A 2018 study found that you have to spend about 50 hours with someone before you can consider them an acquaintance and 90 hours before you consider them a real friend. You can substitute virtual experiences like email exchanges for some of those hours, but you’ll need to have some in-person connection to count someone as part of your network.
Making the first connection is usually easier online. LinkedIn is always a good place to start. You get the benefit of seeing their background, career path, and things you may have in common, such as volunteer experiences, causes they care about, or thought leaders you both follow.
Craft a connection message that gives them a reason to accept the connection. You can start by talking about your resolution to connect with people whose work you admire. Mention a meeting or event you’re both likely to attend and say you’ll make a point to introduce yourself.
The best way to strengthen a new connection is by looking for ways to be helpful. From passing on interesting articles to offering to connect someone with clients, leads, or other professionals, people will remember your generosity and willingness to help.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, Connectors tend to be connected to many communities — whether through interests and hobbies, jobs that cause them to work with people in other fields, or other experiences. Connectors have friends, of course, but their strength is their weak connections: the many acquaintances and network contacts from diverse worlds that they can call on to provide assistance or advice. Connectors are successful because they tend to give more than they take – a great rule of thumb for both expanding and strengthening your network.
“The business of business is relationships; the business of life is human connection.” Robin S. Sharma