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Networking Wisdom from Four Pros Who Know

Dondi Scumaci, author, Designed For Success: The 10 Commandments for Women in the Workplace (Excel Books, $21.99)

Networking isn’t just passing out ten thousand cards at a tradeshow. That’s just an in-person version of spam. Networking is making a real connection—understanding what people care about and what they are trying to get done. Networking is not an event; it is a discipline.

Volunteer. Sign up for causes that matter to you. You’ll meet people who share your interests and concerns. Common ground is a great foundation to build on.

Manage your contacts. Instead of building a database, build a knowledge base. Go beyond collecting names and telephone numbers. Over time, if you pay attention and ask the right questions, you will learn the goals, interests and challenges of your contacts. That’s when they stop being contacts and become colleagues, friends and resources.

Keep in touch. Send thank-you notes, birthday cards and holiday greetings. Make opportunities to stay in front of your contacts in meaningful ways.

Rhonda L. Sher, author, The Two Minute Networker (2MN Publications, $19.95)

As with real estate, networking is about location, location, location. Nail the referral by booking an appointment for a manicure at the end of the day at a high-end spa near the offices of your primary targets. Start a simple conversation based on the color of polish and build from there. Hit the Starbucks closest to the business contacts you’re eyeing and you might just chat it up over a cup of Joe. Browse the bookstore aisles where titles on a topic of interest are shelved. You’re likely to meet likeminded people perusing the same content. Never judge a book by its cover. The person in front of you at the carwash could be your next angel.

Susan RoAne, author, How To Work A Room (Collins, $14.95)

How we communicate online forms an indelible impression. Be respectful, use proper English and be engaging rather than demanding. Avoid brief, terse emails; add a few extra words that personalize emails so you can connect meaningfully with others. Use the endorsement option on social networking sites to make a positive comment about colleagues and associates. This encourages them to return the courtesy to you, which contributes to building your online reputation.

Jen Bilik, Head Honcho,

My first job out of college was an internship at New Line Cinema. Among my class of interns, all anybody could talk about was networking. They didn’t seem to care about what they were learning or doing, just about their contacts. They spoke knowledgeably about Networking with a capital N even though none of them had ever done it. They characterized people who had gotten jobs through family or social contacts as undeserving, but seemed to want the same thing themselves because, cynics at 21, they felt it was the only path to success.

My feeling about networking-then and now, after multiple jobs (including some that stemmed from my New Line experience), a freelance career and owning my own business-is that it’s so natural it shouldn’t even have its own word. My fellow interns seemed to think “networking” was an end unto itself, artificial and strategic. Instead, I have always found that good people want to work with other good people-just like life. When you meet someone, if you have similar interests and passions, it’s immediately apparent, and the conversation will organically move in a “We should collaborate” or “Are you looking for a new opportunity?” direction. Sometimes this is helped along by attendance at professional events and finagling introductions, but if you don’t have the goods, nothing will come of the encounter.