Networking is a common term and concept these days with social media changing the way professionals communicate with one another. Networking can be a vital part of any job search. It can help you find opportunities that you otherwise would never have come across. It’s about creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships; helping others as much as they help you or as much as you can. Networking can be very beneficial and rewarding.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind while networking:

Be Proactive. Go through your contacts and create a strategy. Look into networking events like job fairs, and go to them! Be active on social media and contribute to any groups you may be associated with. Just put yourself out there. The earlier you start, the better. This will help you in your current job search and your career in general.

Don’t be Afraid to Reach Out. If there are certain companies that you believe would be a good fit, reach out to any contacts you have there. If you need to make a new contact, strike up an interesting conversation or try to find some common ground to discuss. A little effort goes a long way!

Build Relationships. Remember that relationships are a two-way street. Ask yourself how you can help your connection rather than focusing on how they can help you. Show interest and listen to your connections, and always follow up! Making initial contact may seem like the hardest part, but following up is definitely the most important.

Maintain Your Network. You want to build long-lasting, meaningful professional relationships within your network. Check in with them, congratulate them on their accomplishments, send helpful information and opinions when you can, and just remember to put in effort. Don’t become an annoyance, obviously, just remember to keep up with your network.

Networking is the best way to market yourself as a professional. It can create beneficial relationships and lead to new opportunities. While networking helps tremendously during a job search, don’t wait to start until then! Start now! Go to that event, start volunteering, join a professional association, just get out there and start networking. It is well worth the time and effort.