Networking can serve as a powerful strategy as you seek your next career position. In fact, effective networking can help you become more successful in many aspects of your professional life. Here are some ideas for getting the most out of your networking experience.

First, create your contact list. Consider every category of acquaintance, including business, family, professional and not-for-profit organizations, and friends. Start with a list of 30 to 50 individuals. Develop a system that works for you of organizing and tracking your networking contacts and activities.

Next, build a list of target companies based on factors such as your interest in the company, geography, reputation, industry, and growth opportunities, as well as your contacts and referrals from those contacts. If you don’t have a contact at one of your target companies, LinkedIn is a great tool for finding the right person.

Now you’re ready to implement a “bridge” campaign designed to ultimately get you to a formal interview. Identify an individual who knows an executive, manager or employee at one of your target companies. Once you have a contact, reach out and request a phone or in-person meeting. Be sure to follow up by phone three to five days after your initial outreach if you haven’t received a response.

Once you’ve secured a time to talk with someone at a target company, it’s appropriate to provide a few points about your qualifications and objectives but don’t send a formal resume unless specifically requested; save that for the interview. At the meeting, ask about the person’s experience at the target company, listen closely to the answers, and ask for referrals to others who may have insight regarding opportunities for you. Remember that networking works best when it’s a two-way street so be sure to offer any assistance or resources you can provide to your contacts.

After the networking meeting, document ideas and referrals and be sure to send a thank you note the following day. Let your contact know that you’re interested should any opportunities arise and ask for permission to follow up periodically by phone. Be sure to identify how you can contribute based on what you heard at the meeting.

Finally, make time to periodically evaluate your networking efforts. Talk about the details of your networking meetings with friends and current or former co-workers and discuss what’s working and what’s not. It’s also helpful to brainstorm ideas for making your time with contacts more effective. For example, you may determine that you need to make sure you know what you want from your contact before initiating a conversation. Think of it as, “helping them help you.”

Networking is a great way to reach the next level of success in your career. By following a few simple steps, you’ll be well on your way to achieving the results you want through networking.