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Networking for Beginners

If you've looked for a job any time in the past few years, you're probably heartily sick of hearing about networking. As the economy grew less certain, the focus increased on networking our way to new gigs instead of applying blind. This makes sense: with more applicants per job opening, anything you can do to stand out from the crowd is a good thing, and having a personal "in" at the company you're interviewing with never hurts.

But what about if you don't know how to network?

If you're just starting out, or never really got the hang of networking in the first place, career consultant Meaghan Marshall has a few tips for you:

1. Set Goals

Are you looking for a new job right now, hoping to make connections for future work, or looking for a mentor? Being clear about what you want will help you achieve your aims.

2. Keep Track

Have some sort of record-keeping system to help you track all these contacts you'll be making. Even if you mostly use LinkedIn or other social networks, it's a good idea to create a spreadsheet or a file for those business cards you pick up in real life.

3. Expand Your Network

"Once you have created a system to maintain network information, the next step is to expand your network. It is important to look outside of your immediate circle to establish network contacts," Marshall writes. She suggests adding contacts from old jobs, and your friends and family.

4. Make Business Cards -- and Use Them

Attend professional networking events, but don't go empty-handed. Even in this digital age, real business cards help you make yourself memorable to new acquaintances. Plus, it just looks more professional.

5. Maintain Real Professional Relationships

Networking isn't like Pokemon -- the goal isn't to catch all the contact info, enter into your spreadsheet, and forget about it. Build relationships, stay in contact, and help others when you can. Real networking goes both ways.

Tell Us What You Think

We want to hear from you! Are you a networking pro? Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter, using the hashtag #MakeItHappen.

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(Photo Credit: kevin krejci/Flickr)

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