While networking is an important skill as you seek your next career position, not everyone is comfortable with the process or sure they’re getting the most out of it. In this week’s blog post, we’ll define networking and look at how it provides key benefits for every employee, regardless of their career stage.

To begin, it’s important to note that networking does not involve asking someone for a job. It’s a way to gain access to your target companies or to learn more about companies and their needs for talent.

Networking is an on-going process of engaging in conversations with people you know about your current career goals. As part of that dialogue, you want to seek information about how these individuals or their contacts may have connections to your target companies to help you learn about potential opportunities The ultimate goal is to build an ever-widening network that ultimately reaches into the business environment until you unearth needs you can fill or meet.

Networking offers a number of benefits as you go through a job search. Effective networking builds awareness of your expertise, helps you learn about companies and opportunities, leads to new or stronger relationships, and generates new ideas and contacts. The information you receive through networking can reduce the stress associated with looking for a job while the feedback you receive can serve as positive reinforcement about your efforts.

Now that you know some of the benefits of networking, you may be wondering how to go about it.  To prepare for a successful networking experience, you need to develop a 30-second statement that covers what you’ve been doing, what you’re looking to do, and what kind of assistance or information you’re looking for from your contacts. Here’s a sample: “My name is Joe Stanton. I’ve been working in sales management for the past 12 years. My most recent position was a VP of Sales and Marketing for Jansen Consulting where I marketed information technology services to manufacturing. I’m exploring new opportunities in business development in the IT industry with a focus on web-based organizations. The way you can help me is…” (tailor according to your contact).

Next, you need a public exit statement with a concise, non-controversial answer to the question of why you left your last position. The best way to explain why you’re no longer with the company is to give a brief statement of events that have affected the company and led up to your release—then move on without dwelling on the past. If the reason for your departure relates to poor performance circumstances, you’ll want to talk about how the position wasn’t a right fit for you or otherwise develop an answer that doesn’t address any negative aspects.

Now you’re ready to begin the networking process. In the next post, we’ll take you through the steps.