By Rob Sabo
While you were busy blowing a horn, wearing a funny hat and watching the ball drop at the stroke of midnight on New Year's eve, you probably weren't thinking about career growth. But in the early days of a new year, it's great to contemplate career growth and change.
Along with your "lose weight," "get more sleep," and other personal improvement resolutions, consider adding some career resolutions to your list. From building stronger business networks to continuing your education and earning a college degree, use these tips to add new tools to your professional toolbox and new contacts to your virtual Rolodex.
Strategies to help you soar in 2012
1. Nurture your network. Sales strategist and networking expert Alice Heiman, founder of Alice Heiman LLC, says that one important resolution is to spend time nurturing a strong and usable network.
"Start by reconnecting with former colleagues, college buddies, past clients and professionals you haven't seen in a while," Heiman says. "LinkedIn is a great tool for this. When used correctly you can gain valuable introductions that can lead to jobs, resources and sales."
Jeffrey Benjamin, founder of Breakthrough Training and co-author of "Real Life Habits for Success," says that building a strong professional network is a crucial step for advancing your career prospects. Talent can only take you so far, Benjamin says. Oftentimes, landing a new job or advancing into a better position comes down to who you know -- especially true for people who work in small- to mid-size communities, where personal contacts often lead to crucial referrals.
"Being competent helps," he says, "but that alone will only take you so far. Landing a contract or getting a new job is largely determined by who you know and who knows you. Target the right groups where you can get to know the types of people who can help you advance your professional goals."
2. Learn something new. Taking the initiative to learn more about your current position, or to learn something new, shows your current employer you're serious about advancement. Learning comes in many forms -- mentoring with a journeyman, asking a superior for advice and guidance, or even through continuing education.
"Don't wait for an employer to give you training," Heiman says. "Determine several things you would like to learn in 2012 and make a resolution to learn them." Take a webinar or workshop, shadow someone who does that job, or read all you can about it. Keep yourself relevant so you are more interesting to your current or potential employer.
Reading is another key tool anyone can use to gain more knowledge. Heiman suggests setting aside reading time either daily or a set amount each week. Not only will you gain valuable knowledge, but you also can appear smarter in the eyes of your colleagues.
"Determine what you need to read to stay current in your field," she says. "Read about your clients, your competitors, industry trends and other related business topics. You will always have something to converse about and will appear very knowledgeable to others."
3. Spend time with positive people. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking, says Benjamin, who has conducted leadership and team building exercises around the world. People's thoughts and actions are affected by the people around them, he says. Surrounding yourself with positive, productive workers can be beneficial to your career.
"Negativity is the destroyer of goals, dreams and ambitions," Benjamin says. "Positive people make things happen. Eliminate or reduce the amount of time that you spend with doom-day mentalists."
4. Get yourself connected. For the socially shy, networking events and business mixers can be agonizing. However, they also can be vital to help you increase your professional contacts. Some people naturally flit about networking events with superb social grace, while others grab the nearest ear and hang on for dear life. Take the middle ground -- make it a resolution to spend no more than 10 minutes chatting with any one person.
"Find several groups that you can network with on a regular basis," Heiman says. "These can be professional organizations, service groups, your alumni association or business groups like your chamber of commerce. Be determined to meet at least three new people at every event you attend and to follow up with them and learn how you might further connect and be valuable to each other."
5. Limit your obligations and make time for recreation. People aren't machines. Make a resolution to step away from the things that consume your time and attention, Benjamin says, as well as take some time off for yourself.
"You only have so many hours in a day," he says. "Figure out what your top three or four priorities are, and delete anything that does not relate. Take on more only after you have fulfilled your top priorities."
Taking a short break or a vacation -- without bringing business along -- can provide a much-needed breather from everyday pressures and help you perform better, Benjamin adds.
"Step away for a day of skiing or hiking, or take an hour or two to play chess or a card game. This is a super way to gain a new perspective. If you don't take time to step away from the daily grind it will end up wearing you down."
By following these guidelines throughout the year, you might find yourself in a totally different position at the start of 2013.
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