When it comes to finding a job, nothing beats good, old-fashioned networking—contacting friends, relatives and former colleagues, setting up face-to-face meetings in the hope of getting job referrals. Yes, it is awkward, but here's why it simply has to be done: at any given time, about 80% of all available jobs aren't posted in the classifieds or on job boards, says BH Careers International, a New York career-management firm. Sixty percent of people surveyed by BH said they got their last job by networking.
The "Elevator Speech"
Prepare an elevator speech. Write a summary of what you want people to know about you that can be delivered in less than 30 seconds. Make it upbeat and succinct—who you are, what you do, what you're looking for. Since you only get one chance to make a first impression, practice your elevator speech in front of a mirror, and then on friends, before taking it to a networking event.
Use your existing ties. Start by tapping existing contacts, including friends, family and former co-workers and supervisors. Spread the word that you're looking for a job and ask if anyone has a contact who might be able to offer advice. Then make sure to ask every person you meet for two or three more referrals. Ask, for example, "Do you know anyone else who might be helpful for me to meet?" as you end your conversation.
Target trade groups. Don't waste time at big events catering to people in many industries. Join the dominant trade or industry group in your area. Preferably, it should have a barrier to entry, at least a membership fee. Consider volunteering on one of the group's committees to meet members.
Show interest in others. Stop focusing on yourself and take an interest in the other person. Ask questions and get the contacts to talk about themselves and their business experience. This is easier than you might think.
Don't Come On Too Strong
Don't ask for a job. People are likelier to be generous with their time if you ask for their counsel. Don't worry. If you seem qualified for an opening, they'll refer you to the right person to set up an interview.
Build relationships. Strangers won't put their reputations on the line for you. Build ties with a new contact before asking for help. Consider dropping a personal note to any new contact you meet at an industry event. Then follow up, perhaps with a helpful article or introduction to someone you know.
Don't Be Selfish
Don't be selfish. No matter how desperate you are, remember networking is a two-way street. If you've met with a recruiter, you can always offer to introduce him to the smartest people you know in your industry. If you are a young job seeker with little experience, you may not be able to help a finance chief land his next position, but his daughter might be applying to colleges and want to hear your take on a school.
Don't abuse relationships. There's no rule here for how many phone calls are too many. Just try to gauge if you're coming across as always looking for a favor.
Follow through. Nothing can kill a budding relationship faster than not writing a proper thank you note. In many cases, you can email it, but don't assume the content is any less important than in snail mail. A three-line message with a smiley face won't cut it. Keep the other person abreast of how your meeting went with someone he or she referred you to.
Maintain Your Network
Maintain your network. Cultivate ties even when you aren't job hunting. Remember, the majority of jobs go unpublished, so you may hear of an exciting opportunity.
These tips were developed by Stacey L. Bradford, an associate editor of SmartMoney.com.