From my first day of the MBA program, no word was uttered with greater fervency or frequency than 'networking'. "Networking will help you find that internship." "Networking will get you the best jobs after school." Forget about test scores, actual job performance, your impeccable fashion sense, or sense of humor. When it comes to moving up professionally, it's all about who you know who knows someone else who knows another person who is close friends with a key decision maker and how well you can connect all of them to bring you that dream job. Network. Network. Network.

Incidentally, it turns out networking can also cure cancer, pay off the national deficit, and make all of your wildest dreams come true. Needless to say, I was skeptical about the merits of networking. It didn't seem fair that a mediocre manager could vault up the corporate ladder on pure schmoozing. It was frustrating that someone from a well-connected background had an instant advantage over the rest of us. Worst of all, I despised how it turned the act of socializing into a means for personal gain- like turning every party, every social, every seminar, into a Tupperware party. I worried about my network members feeling used. And I hated the prospect of having to sell myself to relatives, friends, and co-workers. After all, this is the USA, where hard work, sweat, sacrifice, and diligence are rewarded, not talking, dropping names, and needling others for that next contact, right? Wrong.

Turns out the idea of networking is as old as civilization. Societies have always relied on one person giving the other a hand up and vice versa. In less prosperous times, a tribe's survival hinged on its relationships with its neighbors- its network, if you will. Kings rose to power or were dethroned by the strength or weakness of their networks. And, yes, even in the good ol' USA, despite all of the hoo haw about hard work, the successful have risen through the ranks mostly on their ability to tap into the people around them. Few people make it on their own. Everybody needs somebody sometimes. In other words, networking is a part of human life. Networking makes civilization go round.

So, if networking is a fact of human existence and professional success, how do you grow your network and tap into its power without selling your soul? How do you market yourself to your network without becoming the most unpopular person at your next family picnic (next to your Aunt Cassie and her Tupperware)? Despite my initial rejection, I have since made peace with the concept of networking. Following are 6 tips to help you connect with your network to find your dream job without selling your soul:

1. Be yourself – Fakers are pretty obvious. Even worse, they are unattractive to the very people they are trying to woo. Conversely, knowing yourself and being self-assured is the greatest bait there is for successful people. Knowing your strengths and your unique selling points, and just plain liking yourself, will have them swarming all over you like a big, juicy nigthcrawler.

A few simple activities can get your self-confidence flowing. Periodically, I like to jot down lists of what I think I'm good at, what I've accomplished, and what I know I can achieve. This exercise goes a long way toward keeping me focused on all of my positive traits. It also helps me answer the question, "Who am I?" If I find I haven't been doing anything noteworthy lately, I get out the door and help someone with something, or I resolve to go the extra mile on an upcoming assignment at work. The more you do, the more confidence you will feel in your ability to do. It's cyclical.

One friend of mine, who is one of the most stellar professionals I know, simply sets apart time to visit his mom. She makes him a homecooked meal, asks him about school and work, and tells him he can make it. By the end, he says, he's ready to face anything and talk to anyone. Being yourself can be the simplest and the hardest thing to do. Learning to do it puts you ahead of the pack. Know yourself. Like yourself. Present yourself.

2. Warm calls are better than cold calls – As terrifying as it can be to ask your cousin Joe, who used to give you wedgies and steal your popsicles at family reunions, for help with finding the right job, it's better than calling a complete stranger who already has millions of tasks on their plate. Cousin Joe is a warm call. He has some kind of bond to you. He's met you in person. With any luck, Joe still feels some guilt over bullying you and will help you out of a desire to alleviate his guilt.

On the other hand, the complete stranger is a frigidly cold call. He doesn't know you from that guy who ran over his trashcan earlier that morning. To the stranger you are another task to be swept away as quickly as possible. Even worse, the stranger is possibly a gatekeeper, meaning one of his key responsibilities is to filter out people like you.

Needless to say, your chances are much better with Cousin Joe. And, if it makes it any easier, remember: he can't administer wedgies over the phone.

3. Let them help you – Novice networkers often wrestle with the idea of hitting up their friends for fear of ruining their relationships. What many networkers find, however, as they involve their friends, family, and co-workers in their job hunt, is that these people are happy to help. They like being useful and reaching out to give someone else a shot. As long as you haven't sold them down the river in the past, they will recommend you heartily to their friends. They are ready and willing to pass your resume to their colleagues. Beyond their initial assistance, they will continue to keep an eye out for you. Why do they do it? With the exception of the most Machiavellian among us, people generally like to know that they've helped someone. Most successful people believe in the Golden Rule and will apply it if you ask for their help.

So, forget the idea that you are imposing on their time and inconveniencing them. It's not true. You are giving them the chance to do something nice for someone else. That someone just happens to be you.

4. Accentuate the positive – Downers. We've all met them. They like to wallow in life's failures. They don't really believe that anything great is going to happen. When things go wrong, they find some kind of perverse pleasure in broadcasting it to anyone who will listen. When you're done talking to one of these people, you feel like joining them in a dive from the nearest bridge. In networking, they make you not want to tell anyone, much less your business colleagues, about them or their resume. You just want to go find something happy- Disney movies, Abba songs, The Wiggles, etc.- to wash away the memory of your meeting with the downer.

Positive people, on the other hand, are irresistibly attractive to others. They motivate others to action, inspire them to greater causes, and give them hope. They are constantly finding the silver lining. In a network, they instill confidence that your recommendation of their resume, their work ethic, and their integrity will be well placed. You know that this person will succeed wherever they go.

Obviously, we all want to be the positive person. However, when bad things happen- we get turned down for the internship we wanted, or we get a less-than-stellar grade-, we are tempted to dwell on it, maybe even let our network members know about it, cry on their shoulder. As natural as this may seem, don't do it. Bite your tongue. Take deep breaths. Count to ten. Go get a pint of Ben & Jerry's. Whatever it takes to get some sunshine back. Then talk to your network. Tell them all about all the good things you've done. Tell them about getting turned down, but then tell them about how you've got other great prospects you're really excited about. Tell them about the bad grade, but then tell them about your plans to overcome it. "Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative." So goes the old Bing Crosby song. Words to live by, especially in networking.

5. Be considerate and professional – Nothing spells professional unculturedness like barging in, calling at inopportune times, neglecting standard hygiene, talking to the VP of Marketing like you're addressing the kid at the McDonald's drive-thru, or a host of other rude behaviors. When employers look for their next hire, they hope to find someone who already looks and acts the part, someone who already knows the rules and social graces of the workplace, someone they could just pick up and place in that role with minimal training.

When writing (letter or email), observe all punctuation, grammar, and formatting rules. People may not recognize errors in their own writing, but they will in yours. And they will make inferences about your intelligence, experience, and professionalism based on how you write. So, the easy way to make sure you do this right is to make sure all of your written communications are spotless. Check and double-check all punctuation and spelling. Look at professional writing samples to make sure your formatting (spacing, margins, font, etc.) matches theirs. If you have a friend who is a good writer, get them to edit your letter. Be meticulous.

When calling, be sure to ask first if it is a good time to talk. If possible, send emails in advance to reserve a time to talk with them. If you promise them that you will take no longer than 20 minutes, stick strictly to that promise. By honoring their time, you demonstrate your understanding of the very time-conscious business world. Also, be sure to use only language and expressions that is well within the realm of courteous, polite speech. Corporate America is becoming more cautious about the use of profanity or innuendo. Recently, a temp was promptly asked to leave the office of one of the world's largest companies for repeatedly using a strong four-letter word. Although it may become comfortable as an employee settles into a job, profanity and innuendo should be avoided during networking and interviewing. Err on the side of caution.

When meeting in person, continue to be time-sensitive and watch your language. In this situation, hygiene and dress become especially important. Lack of hygiene or poor taste in dress can easily overshadow otherwise spotless credentials. Make sure your dress matches the company you are aiming for. For instance, a tasteful sweater and Levis might be fine for a lunch with a manager from Apple. Heck, a Superman t-shirt and cargo shorts might be fine if you're trying to get your first job as a film production assistant. But if you're meeting with a product manager at Ford Motor Company, wear a business suit, have your shoes polished, comb your hair, and keep the Star Trek tie at home. If you are having drinks with a fashion executive, bring your A-game outfit (buy or rent one if you don't have one). The wrong behavior, words, or outfit can ruin the best resume. The right ones can knock it out of the ballpark.

6. Don't go all the way on the first date – Let's say you've been working your network successfully for months toward an investment banker position. This is your dream job. You've wanted it ever since you picked up your first financial calculator. You've worked your way to Uncle Bob's manager's brother's business partner's girlfriend. In college, she lived with the sister of Goldman Sachs' VP of Finance and has managed to get you a lunch date with him.

So, you get your best outfit on, your hair cut, your shoes polished, and your car washed. You take all morning to absorb every piece of significant data from the Wall Street Journal and memorize the Goldman Sachs mission statement and its company history. You drive to the restaurant, walk in, shake hands with him, and sit down, and he begins to ask you about yourself. All you can think is "I want this job so bad it hurts. I will kill to have this job."

Then, suddenly, the words escape your mouth: "I want to work for Goldman Sachs. I'm hard-working. I go the extra mile. I know everything about your company. I promise you won't regret it." The VP's eyebrows go up; he looks a little embarrassed. A rotten feeling begins in your stomach and starts to work its way up your throat. What's happened? You've tried to go all the way on the first date, so to speak. He has agreed to meet with you for an informal lunch and informational interview. But you've gone and practically proposed marriage to him… well, not quite, but you've placed him in a very awkward position. You've most likely demonstrated your inexperience with the hiring process. You've asked him to do something he was not prepared to do. He may not even be in the position to hire you. Most importantly, he knows very little about you at this point.

Although I mentioned earlier that most people in your network will be glad to help, asking for a job without first going through the process of gaining their trust and growing a relationship with them is not a responsible way to use them. So, despite what you've seen in the movies, resist the urge to blurt out your devotion to their company and your life ambitions to work with them. It works in the movies but not with real people. Work instead on gaining their trust and learning from them. Establishing a real relationship with them will greatly increase your chances of them offering to help you get your dream job.

Networking can be a daunting, time-consuming task. If you're like me, you've worried about maintaining good relationships with your friends and family while using them to find the right job. These tips can help you do it. Do you have any tips for networking? What have you experienced? Are you in love with the idea of networking and do you have misgivings? Are my 6 tips full of it? Let us know…

About the author

Marcus Varner earned his BA in English from Brigham Young University with a Creative Writing emphasis. He is currently in his second year at BYU's lauded MBA program studying Marketing. He blogs, writes fiction and screenplays, loves movies, and can't resist playing superheroes with his kids.

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