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For a great job search and continuing career opportunities, you need to build and maintain a good network--but many people don't know how to do network well.

Here are 4 keys to give you have the kind of professional network that will serve you well in your job search and career:

1.   Contact your current contacts.

When's the last time you gathered up a list of all the people you know and have met in your work life?  I bet the number of people you know would surprise you.  Now--how many of those would you feel comfortable contacting for a job lead?  Probably not so many. The key to being able to tap this resource (your network) when you need it is to nourish it when you don't.  Here's how:

Every 3-6 months, send an e-mail to everyone you have an email address for.  This should be people you have something in common with:  you used to work with them, your spouse works with them, you went to school with them, you were/are in some kind of a group with them, and so on.  These don’t have to be close relationships–acquaintances are fine.  Your email should say something like,  “Hi, this is Peggy.  It’s been a long time since we’ve talked.  I’m still at ____________________, still doing _____________.  If you need anything, please give me a call.  Here are my phone numbers if you need to get in touch with me or give someone else my contact information if I can assist them.  If your personal e-mail has changed, please let me know.” If you can and it makes sense, offer them something--this can be something you know they need help with, an article that's relevant for them, or even just a bit of news they might be interested in.  This little "Hi" will keep you in their minds so that when an opportunity DOES come up, they are likely to think of you.  (Facebook and LinkedIn updates don't count.  You need this more 'personal' touch.)

2.  Always add more contacts to your list.

You can add more contacts by signing up for LinkedIn and joining groups related to your field.  When you participate in group discussions and such, you make new contacts.  As you make contacts, add them to your email routine.  You can also do this in person when you attend industry events.

3.  Maintain relationships/conversation with previous bosses. 

When you leave a company, ask your boss if he or she will give you a positive reference.  If they agree, get their personal e-mail address.  That way, if they leave the company, you can still get in touch with them when you need the reference. (Don't forget to keep them in your email loop.)

4.  Be honest with your network.

Everyone has problems–more people than you know have had difficulties at work, or been laid off or even fired.  I’m not saying we need to hear all the sordid details, but being honest about issues you have or situations you’re dealing with just might lead to an opportunity you wouldn’t otherwise have.  We don’t usually think to help someone who says “everything’s fine,” but we all like to help someone if we can.

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how to build your networkLearn how to network like a pro! Read Networking Effectively: How to Build Your Network for Career Success, available on Amazon.