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Think Networking Gets You Ahead? Not How You're Doing It

As you know, landing the job you want can be more about who you know than what you know. Networking is critical. But just as there are good ways and bad ways to meet a prospective girlfriend or boyfriend, there are good ways — and not so good ways — to fuse business relationships that could someday boost your career. Here are the 10 dos and don’ts of networking:

Do keep your business cards handy.

You never know when you might find yourself in a conversation that leads back to what you do — and where your career is going. You could be out on a Friday night, in an airport, or at church.

Keep a few business cards neatly tucked in your pocket. Also, write your personal email address and cell phone number on a few cards. If you’re aiming to find a new job in a year or two, you want any new professional allies to be able to contact you wherever you may roam.

Don’t hand your business card out recklessly.

I once worked with a guy who was a master salesman, and he would hand out his card to everybody he met. (One time, he even gave his business card to a bouncer who was kicking him out of a bar).

While many top sellers use every interaction as an opportunity to make a sale, trying to network with everybody can make you look sleazy — or desperate. Have your cards at the ready, but only exchange them if asked, or if you’re already talking about business or careers.

Do keep in touch with former coworkers and managers.

One of the most important networking moves you can make is to regularly stay in touch with your former coworkers and supervisors. You can do this with a few emails throughout the year, a holiday card, or even a five or ten minute phone call just to see how they are doing (Friday afternoons make a great time for such calls, when most people are looking for ways to avoid any hard work the last few hours of the week).

Don’t call them only when you need a job.

While your former colleagues can be a goldmine of future career opportunities, don’t expect them to hire you when you call them out of the blue for the first time in three years. Nothing says “I only care about you because you can help me” quite like it.

Do utilize social networking and blogs.

Sites like Doostang and LinkedIn take professional networking online and make it easier to network than ever before. Just like Facebook or MySpace, you can create a profile, upload your resume, and create connections with past and present colleagues. Then, your connections can find easily find you if they have a position open, plus employers can search for you by keyword. Writing a blog in your area of expertise is another smart move that can bring potential employers to your doorstep.

Don’t overexpose yourself online.

When it comes to online social networking, you can get too much of a good thing. Especially when you are actively networking online, you can expect any potential employers to see your online self…all of it. These days, most hiring managers are just as likely to look you up on Facebook as they are on LinkedIn. That means it’s high time for those Spring Break 2002 photos to come down. Not only can prospective employers find scandalous personal revelations on your profiles today, thanks to Google, those blog comments about how much you hated your last boss will be easily searchable for many years to come.

Do listen to recruiters.

It can be quite flattering to receive a call from a recruiter asking if you if you would be interested in an exciting new opportunity they have available. There’s no harm in talking (as long as your current boss doesn’t overhear). Even if the position isn’t for you, it can be handy on the radar of a handful or recruiters in your field. It’s just another tool to excelling in your career.

Don’t believe they’re on your side.

That said, remember the cardinal rule of working with a recruiter: remember who is paying them. Recruiters are paid to fill openings, not be your career coach. Don’t let a recruiter — or anybody — pressure you into a position that isn’t right for you.

Do ask friends, family, and colleagues for career advice.

If you’re searching for your career’s direction or wonder what it’s like to have a friend’s job, don’t be afraid to ask. Most people love to talk about themselves — their jobs included. Plus, mentioning that you’re interested in what they do can plant a seed that could lead to a further opportunities down the road.

Don’t talk only about your career.

Sometimes you hate your current job so much all you talk about is getting out. While this may be at the forefront of your mind, it can seem like complaining — or desperate networking — to those around you. Unless you’re already unemployed (in which case talking about job prospects 24/7 might not be a a bad idea), keep your career queries to once every couple of conversations.

Next Monday, check out the career topic for “Tips to Landing a Job with LinkedIn and Doostang”. Need a reminder? Please subscribe to my RSS feed.

About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.