Let’s face it—today’s job market is a tough nut to crack. Whether you are a recent grad or a seasoned professional finding the right opportunity can be a challenge. No matter where you are in your career, start with the fundamentals. Traditional channels such as job boards and alumni groups represent a solid foundation. But the savvy searcher doesn’t stop there. Leveraging, building and maintaining your professional network is an incredibly powerful tool. A little finesse combined with some out of the box thinking can help you build a valuable network that will pay big dividends the next time you find yourself in search of a new job. Here are some tips to get you going.

Learn the Art of Networking: Highly successful networking is an art. It’s not about adding contacts to your network. It’s about building relationships—mutually beneficial relationships. Read “Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time” by Keith Ferrazzi. The book is a quick and informative read and is chock full of practical advice on relationship-building. That advice includes “Don’t keep score. It’s never just about getting what you want. It’s about making sure that people who are important to you get what they want too.” Words of wisdom. Look for the win-win in every relationship you create.

Focus on the Networking Process: While it might sound counter-intuitive, take time to focus on the networking process instead of a simply looking for connections that align with a specific job. Putting your effort into building solid relationships, no matter who the contact is, will pay dividends for you down the road. The more solid the relationship is, the more likely you can offer or receive help from that person in the future. So branch out, seek connections that go outside your industry, level of experience or career focus. You never know what those relationships might lead to.

Friend of a Friend (of a Friend): Social media has created some unique opportunities for networking. On sites like LinkedIn and Facebook you can often see a connection’s list of connections. Some simple research on the friends of your friends will often uncover hidden networking gems and create opportunities to expand your network in a focused way. A simple email to your friend asking for an introduction to one of their friends is often just a few clicks away. Be sure to mine this resource.

The Power of TRW: The power of networking in TRW (The Real World) has not been diminished by social media or online job boards. Look for networking mixers and events in your area that focus on your target industry(s). Recently I was searching for candidates for a healthcare client and I attended a Southern California Healthcare Professionals happy hour. I made several new contacts that could prove to be very helpful in the future. Find events that align with your job search profile and make an appearance. Even in this digital age, nothing can replace speaking to someone in person.

Network for the Future: At the moment, you may not be actively looking for a new job. But knowing that day will eventually come should provide the motivation you need to make networking a daily, or at minimum, a weekly task on your to do list. Life is unpredictable and the need to change your work situation can sometimes occur with little or no warning. Think of your persistent networking activities as an investment in your own future, one that is guaranteed to pay dividends.