When it comes to the job search, you have one of the best tools at your disposal:  your network. Networks are important to nurture because they add a human touch to the application process.  From my experience I would guesstimate between 60-80% of hires are due to “who you know”.

A network is, technically, everyone you know.  Here are some helpful hints on how to use your network to its greatest advantage:

1.  Build your Network.  Whatever you do, don’t forget an essential golden rule as quoted by Napoleon Hill in his essay called “The Law of Success”:  “Before you can secure co-operation from others; nay, before you have the right to ask for or expect co-operation from other people, you must first show a willingness to co-operate with them.  For this reason… the habit of doing more than paid for is one which should have your serious and thoughtful attention.” (p8)

The best way to build your network is to freely contribute to causes within your field.  Market your strengths by positioning yourself in front of people who will be able to notice your skills and recommend you for career opportunities.  By genuinely and selflessly giving of your time and talent you will truly impress people and will build incredible alliances with those who will help your job search endeavor.  Areas to consider include social media and online discussion groups, active memberships with civic organizations or special interest clubs, and volunteering.  Not only will you effectively continue to build your network but you will be able to add additional skills, experiences and accomplishments to your resume.

2. Nurture your network.  This step can start at any time, but the hope is that you are building and nurturing your network before you need it.  Talk to friends and colleagues with the intention of rekindling rapport.  As you build new associations stay in contact with them so you create a long lasting bond.  A network is all about relationships, and this takes time; however, the more people in your network feel connected to you, the more they will want to help you.

3. Tell them about your situation.   Don’t just contact people you think may be helpful in your job search, contact everyone!  You don’t know who your contacts know and anyone can help generate a job lead.  You can either take the direct approach by asking for their assistance, or a more indirect approach by just asking for friendly advice regarding your job search.  Renew connections by picking up the phone and calling your contacts; then be sure to follow up with an email so you stay in their mind.

4. Ask for advice, not for a job. Interacting with members of your network should never be transactional. For example, during a certain point in your job search, you may be tempted to reach out to a friend and ask them if their employer is hiring or for them to offer you a job. Instead, you should ask that member of your network for some advice regarding finding a job or being successful in their field. This conversation may lead to a job offer, but asking for one may alienate the relationships you have nurtured throughout your career.

5. Partner up. Some of us aren’t comfortable meeting new people and struggle to nurture relationships. Find a friend or member of your network to assist you in meeting new people. Bring a partner to events like luncheons, dinners, or anything you would be uncomfortable attending. Networking isn’t something you have to do alone.

Nurture Your Network after you Get the Job

Once you’ve found a position, there are a few essential things to keep in mind.

1. Continue to nurture your relationships. Having an extensive, reliable network doesn’t stop being important once you’ve found a position. Instead of neglecting these relationships once you’ve found a job, you should seek to provide new value to the members of your network by utilizing the experience and industry knowledge you gain in your new position.

2. Seek new relationships at your workplace. The most accessible place to build your network is your workplace. Building relationships with your coworkers facilitates a friendly working environment, makes your job easier, and these connections could prove to be valuable additions to your network in the long run, especially when it comes to securing references. Volunteer to contribute to social events within your workplace and show up to scheduled lunches and other activities. Ensure that you’re actively engaging with your new coworkers and building relationships.

3. Be grateful. You should always show appreciation to valued members of your network, primarily when they assist you in finding employment and advancing your career. Show appreciation to those that have assisted you in your career by letting them know! Always be sure to send thank you notes and contact those who helped you find your current place of employment directly- treat them to lunch or dinner if it’s within your budget.

4. Return the favor. Do you have a member of your network struggling to find a job or someone in desperate need of advice? Now that you’ve secured your position, you should be seeking to assist those people in your network to help them advance their careers. As mentioned before, relationships should never be transactional- jump at the opportunity to help friends in need, even if they haven’t had a chance to help you in the past.

5. Think long-term. Becoming employed or finding a contract doesn’t mean the job hunt is over; any successful professional should constantly advance their career and develop as an individual. The same ideology can be applied when thinking about your network- for maximum long-term benefit, you should always strive to improve, grow, and interact with your network whenever possible.

Most importantly, please realize business and social networking is not a quick solution to your job search challenge.  This approach can take time, but by sticking to building those relationships and contacts your efforts will pay off.