Q:  In Corporate America, one often hears that they should network.  I do a good job and always receive good marks on my performance reviews.  Why should I have to network on top of this, especially when I have limited free time?

 A:  Unfortunately, we as employees tend to think that “doing a good job” is the key to getting ahead.  The startling reality in today’s economy is that doing a good job is just the base line to be considered for a position.  I mean, as a manager you wouldn’t try to hire someone who couldn’t do a good job would you?  Likewise, things such as past work experience, professional credentials and educational experience (e.g. bachelors, masters, PhD) are only keys that open the door so that you aren’t excluded from the party.

If you’re doing it right, networking isn’t something that takes lots of extra time in your life.  If you see everyone as a potential associate or friend, you can network during any mundane daily activity, from waiting in line at the cafeteria to peddling at the gym to commuting on the train. “People think of networking as going to a function,” says Karen Susman, a Denver-based coach and speaker on networking. “You need to realize you are building your network everywhere all the time.” 

 Some conversations will be fleeting while others will lead to the people you meet becoming a part of your circle. The key is being open to – and staying in touch with – those who cross your path.  This is the essential ingredient in creating your own luck.  At some point, you may learn about something that can benefit you professionally before the rest of the world finds out.  For Mr. Rogers, it was a work colleague that led to him filling their position when they took another role within the company.  Had they not had a relationship, he would not have had the opportunity to put his name and face in front of the hiring manager before others were even aware the position would be opening up. 

 While it is true that some networking tactics do take time, many don’t actually take too much. Busy executives who excel at career management say they set aside only a few extra minutes a day to touch base with professional contacts.  Tim Ayers, Director of Global Services Marketing for Tellabs, a communications company in Naperville, devotes about five minutes daily to call or email some of the approximately 900 people in his computerized database. They include colleagues, vendors and others he’s worked with in the past. 

Mr. Ayers notes the benefits: When he lost his job in Chicago during the telecommunications meltdown, he found a new position through a networking contact. Talking with others regularly also helps him do his job better because it keeps him informed about trends and potential candidates for Tellabs openings, he says.

Here are five simple tips to make networking an easy, time effective and potentially career enhancing part of your typical workday: 

Show interest in others. When working with fellow colleagues, ask questions and get them to talk about themselves and their business experience.  The more you know about someone, the more you’ll know about how they may be able to help you in the future.

Build relationships. Strangers won’t put their reputations on the line for you. Consider dropping an email or going out to lunch with any new person you meet.  The stronger the relationship becomes, the better your chances of creating an ally in your career development.

Don’t be selfish. Remember, networking is a two-way street. You have to be willing to give to the other person in order to receive.  If you become aware of some helpful information, make sure your network contacts are aware of it.

Prepare an “elevator speech.” Write a summary of what you want people to know about you that can be delivered in less than 30 seconds. You never know when that VP may bump into you in the hall and ask you “so what do you do?”

 Maintain your network. Keep in touch with those in your network.  Remember, the majority of jobs go unpublished or the candidate is “identified” by the time it is.  Your next exciting opportunity may come from a network contact that thinks it would be perfect for you!