By Allison Peasgood, Director of training and consultancy specialist OMS

Spring has sprung, and that can only mean one thing – it’s time for spring cleaning.

While for most of us this means giving our homes a good tidy up, there’s more than one way to think about a spring clean.

The January blues are well and truly gone and we’ve all settled into the year ahead. At this time, some of us may feel like we need a change, maybe we’re not being challenged enough, or maybe we don’t see our current path going any further. That’s why spring cleaning your career is just as important as spring cleaning your home.

When it comes to spring cleaning your career, one of the most beneficial things you can do is network. Networking is all about identifying the contacts relevant to you, and talking to them to find out what else is out there. You want to be finding out more about the employment market, potential employers and vacancies that are suitable for you.

Networking is not about asking your contacts for a job, as much as we’d like to think it’s that easy. But it isn’t as daunting as it’s often made out to be.

Here’s my 4-step guide to networking:

Step 1 – Make a list

Write down the names of anyone you know who can give you advice or information that could help you. Start with the easy ones first, your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours for example, then move on to your wider circle, like the people who belong to the same clubs and groups as you, or people you happen to see quite often, like your dentist. If you have children, don’t forget the parents of your children’s friends. Even as we get older, the playground can still be the place to find out everything you need to know!

Step 2 – Think

Think about how each person on your list could help you. What do they know about that will help you find your new career? Here’s a few things to help you get started:

• Do they know how local businesses are doing? Whether there are any new companies coming to the area soon? Do they know if any local businesses have won big orders or contracts, making it necessary to take on more staff?

• Do they know how local businesses recruit their staff? What qualifications and experience are they looking for? Do they know if local businesses are willing to interview people, even if there is no immediate job available? What recruitment agencies do they use?

• Do they know any other people that may be able to help you? Whether anyone is prepared to keep an eye out at their place of work for news about vacancies? Do they know anyone who could give you training in a different office software, to help you expand your skills?

Step 3 – Get in touch

Contact these people. Again, start with the easy ones first. Your inner circle are the people you feel most comfortable around, so this will help your confidence. Be careful about how many people you contact at one time, you don’t want to overstretch yourself as this won’t be effective networking.

Let your contacts know that you’re looking for work. Ask them to keep their eyes and ears open for news of jobs that might be suitable for you, or any information that might give you a helping hand. Remember, your contacts will have their own contacts, so this is a good opportunity to grow your wider circle too.

Step 4 – Say thank you!

Saying thank you is common courtesy, so you should always follow up with the person who gave you advice and thank them for their help. This may even encourage them to offer you more help. Your networks are infinite as long as you put the effort into them. People could still get in contact with you with relevant advice for years to come, and hopefully you’ll be able to return the favour.

Creating a network like this does take time, but it really is worth the effort. Even if you aren’t looking to change career, growing your network now will save you time in the future, and who knows, your dream job might be out there waiting, but you haven’t brushed away the dust and found it yet.