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Kim Mohiuddin, president of both MovinOnUpRésumés.com and Authentic Executive Careers, offers networking tips for those intimidated by the idea of networking.

Let’s start with the definition of networking. What exactly does it mean?

The term networking itself can be intimidating. It sounds like something from The Matrix. It just means cultivating relationships. That looks different for everyone. One person might go to weekly business breakfasts while another might make connections on the tennis court.

Once you’ve made the connections, it’s important to cultivate the relationships. It’s better to have a small network of people who you can really keep in touch with and know well enough to help than to have a huge list of people you can’t remember. The people in your network should be able to advocate for you and vice versa.

Why is networking so important?

Networking is critical to the job seeker because most jobs are found through networking. Some studies report that 90 percent of jobs are won through networking. A hiring manager in this market is likely looking at hundreds of résumés for one open position. It’s overwhelming. They’re much more likely to pay attention to the person who’s been referred. It’s more of a known quantity for them and also a way to save time, to quickly get to a candidate who will likely be a match.

Can you give me some specific examples where networking has paid off?

One client was recently offered a chief financial officer position. He saw the open position and used LinkedIn (this is an amazing tool... every job seeker should be on it) to discover that a recruiter in his network was connected to another executive at the company. He got a personal introduction and the interview cycle was very short for a C-level executive.

Another client landed the position of logistics manager. He noticed that a local company was setting up manufacturing operations in Mexico. He had a great deal of experience with optimizing this kind of set-up. So he used LinkedIn to find a connection of a connection who worked in the company.

Most of my clients are executives, but this really works at any level. A customer service agent or store clerk who sees a “Coming Soon” sign for a new business can ask around for an introduction.

For some people, the very idea of talking to strangers makes them nervous. What do you say to them?

For those who are genuinely nervous about talking to new people, start in environments in which you’re comfortable. This could mean an online environment like LinkedIn where you don’t have to talk in real time (you can meet lots of new people by joining professional groups) or volunteering for something you’re passionate about. If you’re an introvert, a great resource is The Successful Introvert by Wendy Gelberg.

But even normally extroverted people can be thwarted by the false idea that they are supposed to “sell” themselves or ask for something from their network. That fear is allayed by remembering to come from a place of giving, of being interested in and ready to help the other. Ask about them. What are they most interested in? What gets them excited? How can you help them? It’s natural for the other person to offer their help and support as well, or to be open when you approach them later.

What are some baby steps one can take?

  1. Get a LinkedIn account or start using that existing one that’s been ignored. I’m on LinkedIn, Now What? by Jason Alba will show you the ropes.

  2. Create a “board of directors” for your job search. These are hired experts or just people who know you well and can help in areas from cheer leading to résumé writing. A nice resource for getting your close confidants on one page and keeping them updated on your search so they can help is a free account at startwire.com (full disclosure, I served on their advisory board during their beta phase).

  3. Make a list of everyone you know. Do they all know how they can help you? Consider calling them or crafting an email letting them know how they could help. You’ll want to share your specific job target and also give them a one- or two-sentence summary of why you offer value. This is to make it easy for them to talk about you. The easier you make it for people to help, the more likely they are to do it.

Are there different channels/types of networking that are best for reserved people?

Networking online, like through LinkedIn or Facebook.

Networking around shared interests. This could be volunteer work, a professional organization, or a hobby.

If you are going to an event, try arriving exactly on time. Usually there are fewer people if you get there early, and that is often an easier way for reserved people to interface.

How about follow-up steps or channels, once they become more comfortable?

Most online networking has to become real-world at some point. One-on-one meetings or lunches are good. There’s not the perceived pressure to “perform” as there can be at a group event.

The follow-up is more about cultivating the relationships you’ve built. Look for ways to help your network by sharing information or contacts with them. If you are short on time, focusing networking activities around your professional field helps because you can, for example, share the same useful news article with all of your network. You’ve helped a lot of people with one idea.

In addition to giving (and in conjunction with it,) update your connections on how things are going for you (always be positive) and how they can help.

Do you have any additional conversational tricks for once a person gets “out there?”

Just come from a place of genuine interest in other people, and things will flow naturally.

It is good to be prepared with a response when people ask what you do. Rather than launching into a canned speech, ask a question that will allow the person to be invested in what you do. So, if you are an X-ray tech and someone asks what you do, answer with a question like, “Have you or your loved one ever broken a bone?” The answer for almost everyone would be something like, “Yes, my daughter had her wrist in a cast for three months last year.” They might even tell a story about how it happened. Now, when you explain that you’re the person who takes the X-rays when people are injured, they are personally involved in what you have to say.

Tip: if people raise their eyebrows when you tell them what you do, they are excited about it and interested. If they knit their eyebrows, they don’t get it. Practice your elevator question with friends until you get raised eyebrows.

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