SINCE the Eighties heyday of power lunches and bulging Filofaxes, networking – the mysterious art of forming relationships with strangers for somewhat mercenary purposes – has been central to City life. To some it’s a necessary evil, to others it’s exciting – but in a recession-affected job market, it can be the difference between progressing one’s career and falling into the void. After all, the majority of City jobs are now filled as a result of the networking process, and that’s especially true when it comes to recently redundant bankers. Being good at it counts for more now than it ever has.<br /><br />However, according to Linda Jackson, director of career management firm Fairplace and networking guru, a lot of people still labour under the misapprehension that a bit of banter and flattery followed by an exchange of business cards is enough to call someone a useful contact. In fact, effective networking requires work, dedication and tactics – something some people only realise too late.<br /><br />“Typically people don’t make enough time to work on it – it’s always easy to let these things slide until suddenly you’re facing redundancy,” she says. At that point, all those accumulated business cards from half-remembered meetings have little value if relationships haven’t been developed.<br /><br /><strong>LONG-TERM VIEW</strong><br />You have to take a long-term view to networking, building relationships for the time they become of use. That use might mean introducing you to further contacts, looking out for openings and opportunities or feeding you useful information. And the key is to make sure you’re useful as well. After making a contact, arrange a follow up meeting over a coffee or lunch – and it’s here the hard work starts.<br /><br />“If you can gift somebody something then they’re far more likely to want to help you,” says Jackson. “You need to ask them what challenges they have, and see how you can help them. You might have worked on a similar project to the one they’re dealing with, or be able to recommend them a contact yourself. You have to find that way to add value to them.”<br /><br />Having built up strong contacts, you have to use your network strategically when it comes to job searching – think about what organisations and people you want to target for an introduction, and who in your network can introduce you. But once you have your target, how do you optimise your chances of hitting it?<br /><br />Ideally, you’ll be wanting your contact to introduce you in person to their contact – for instance, by inviting you along the next time you meet up – or to forward your details with a recommendation via email. To ensure they act on this, Jackson advises letting them know you’ll follow up in a few days – that way you have an agreement for them to act, and you don’t need to be embarrassed about checking up on progress.<br /><br />And make sure you thank your contact later, whatever the outcome – you’ll be reassuring them that the connection went well, which means that they’ll be more likely to help you again.