Networking is the number one method for securing a new position or career. No, it doesn't mean going to large gatherings, being uncomfortable talking to strangers, and giving away as many cards as you can. It does mean connecting with people so that they can help you further your goals to either finding a new job or new career or even keeping the one you have.

Networking is nothing more sharing time, information, resources, and opportunities. Success is not just about what you know, it's who you know...and how you keep it all organized. Since 80 percent of jobs are found through networking, you can't rely solely on the big online job boards or the Sunday Help Wanted ads.

So let's get started. To effectively utilize your extended network of professional and personal relationships you have to have a plan. These five steps should help you maximize the time you spend networking.

1. Develop Your Contact List.

Networking contacts can be divided into two different categories.

a) These consist of friends, relatives, neighbors, parents of your children's friends, etc. These are people who do not necessarily work in nor know much about your industry. They know you on a personal level and might be a good to source of learning more about how others view you, your strengths, and your weaknesses. They might be able to provide information on different industries that could utilize your experience and skills based on their knowledge base. Additionally, they may have access to people in your industry through their social network and could be a good source of referral.

b) People from your industry such as past and current co-workers, former and current managers, former or current clients, industry analysts, recruiters, members of professional associations, industry convention planners, and industry journalists. This group of professionals would be a great source of industry and specific company information, knowledge of company activities (whether they are hiring or firing), an excellent source of referrals to potential hiring managers, great exposure to the largest number of people that could impact your job search significantly.

2. Create the Script.

For many people, networking is uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. To ensure that you are not stymied by the process, it is best to create a script(s) for you to use when contacting a variety of people across a broad spectrum of industries, specialties, and degrees of separation. This script, no longer than one minute in length, should remind them or inform them of your background and areas of specialty, highlighting any event that illustrates your expertise in a particular area. This is also where you tell them that you would like to set up an informational meeting where they, experts in their own field, could enlighten you regarding the newest industry trends, who the industry leaders are, contacts they may have that might be helpful to you in providing further information. It has been my experience that when my clients don't ask for a job or job referral but rather for that person to share their knowledge and expertise, they often walk away with excellent referrals and sometimes potential job situations.

3. Setting up the Informational Interview.
The goal of this meeting is to walk away with at least two names of people in the industry/company in which you have an interest in working.

Using your list from step 1, create a chart that indicates how close your relationship with them is, their place of work, position, what you hope to gain from them and what, if anything you can do for them. Start with people you know well first. Strong ties provide people with greater motivation to be of assistance and are more easily available and accessible. It is also a great way to practice your script and learn how to improvise based on questions that come up.

4. Become the Expert.

These informational meetings should be a great source of current information, not only on the industry and the companies involved but also on the people within the industry and the various jobs and positions they hold. This also affords you the opportunity to find out where the needs or weaknesses are in the industry and how you can become the expert at filling these needs.

5. Conferences, Associations, Groups

Find out about conferences being held in your area of interest. Attending enables you to extend your network and create greater possibilities for job opportunities. Before you go, create a plan of which groups/companies/people you want to make sure you make contact with. Conference planners generally provide this information at sign up. If the cost of attendance is prohibitive, see if there is any way for you to work or volunteer at the conference providing you with free or greatly reduced entrance cost. Join any alumni or business associations and groups that provide a forum for members. By getting lists of members it will enable you to search out those that might be able to provide assistance in your job search.

Now the rest is up to you. Good luck with your networking.

Mary Rosenbaum is a career and transition coach, a lecturer on career issues and guest speaker on the Fox Business Network. Prior to transitioning into coaching, Mary founded and ran an executive recruitment firm for over 20 years. Her credentials include a Masters in Business Administration from NYU. Her career coaching includes job search strategies, interview coaching, networking strategies, job retention, and all related career issues. Get more tips at http://careerandtransitioncoaching.com/pblog or contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.