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Career coach Barbara Safani and résumé expert Louise Fletcher tell you how to make the most of your contacts in the modern marketplace.
1. Join LinkedIn, which will allow you to connect with current and former associates—and their networks, too. "At this point, if you're not on LinkedIn, people wonder why," says Safani. (Bonus: Recruiters often use it as a database.)

2. Request information, not a job. "When you ask for a job, there is a yes or no answer," says Safani, "and it can feel like you're begging." Instead, explain exactly what you want and inquire about others who might be good for you to talk to. "Or pick their brain about the industry; that can be flattering."

3. Be on-message all the time. Prepare a succinct, compelling pitch about what you're looking for and why you're qualified. Then keep this message consistent in your résumé, your online profiles, and your conversations. Never say, "I'll take anything." If you do, people won't know how to help you.

4. Be helpful to others. "Networking isn't just something you do when you're looking for a job," says Fletcher. "If you help people out whenever you can, those favors will come back to you when you need them."

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