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If you’re looking for a job, you’ve undoubtedly heard how important networking skills are. Who you know, and how you network with them, is a key to landing a new job today.

The reason? It’s simple math. Every time a company posts a job listing online or in print, it receives hundreds of applications, many from qualified and talented individuals. The odds that you’ll stand out in this crowd are small, no matter how right you might be a particular job.

But when you network? You could gain an edge. A former boss might set up a personal meeting between you and the hiring manager at a company in your field. A past co-worker might write you a personal letter of recommendation. A former college professor might know of a friend who is looking for professionals to staff her new business.

In other words, brushing up on your networking skills is every bit as important as any resume tips you might pick up.

Here are some suggestions from a recent column by career adviser Paul Bernard that ran in the Huffington Post.

Know What You Want
When you schedule a networking meeting or phone call, you need to know exactly what you want to gain from this conversation. Are you looking for a job lead? Maybe you’re seeking general career advice, or maybe you’re hunting for a referral or a recommendation letter.

If you know what you want, you’ll be prepared to ask for it. If you go into a networking meeting hoping to see what develops, you might leave with little more than a charge for lunch on your credit-card bill.