We’ve all heard it. Networking is a skill set that should be in everyone’s career tool kit. Everyone needs to know how to do it. But what is networking, exactly?

Networking is all about building relationships, not completing transactions. It is the activity that builds the community of social and professional contacts which provide beneficial results to all parties concerned.

Whether you are seeking a new job, wanting to advance from you current position, changing careers or just needing a panel of associates whom you can call for advice and information, networking is the answer.

Think about it.  If you lost your job today, who do you know right now in your field that you could call for a referral?  If you have a problem solving a work problem, who do you know right now that you could contact? If you wanted information on the widget industry, who do you know who might know someone working in widgets? If you are building a business, who do you know who can refer you to prospects?

Conversely, how well do you know your own skill set? If someone called you for help, what help could you give? What are you really good at? What do you really like to do? What are you interested in? Where have you traveled? Who do you know? Who do you know who is looking for a better widget maker? Who can you refer for someone else’s needs? In short, what do you bring to a networking relationship?

Looking over those questions, can you tell me those things about yourself in less than 60 seconds? (Harvard Business Review gives you 118 seconds… just saying.) Give it a try! A few rounds, and voila! You have the first building block of your networking skill set.  You have your elevator speech, the movie trailer of your career, your Super Bowl ad. And you’re ready to start your engine.

In short, networking is that activity that exponentially builds your community of professional relationships. What do I mean by “exponential?” Stop thinking of others as transaction conduits.  Don’t just collect business cards. Start building a folder of people with whom you can share information for mutual benefit. Instead of looking at someone as a prospect, think of everyone as someone who knows ten prospects they can refer to you. Once you understand that, the rest is easy. (Ok, easier.)

Finally, networking is a personal and business skill set. It can be learned; it can be improved; it can be measured. And it can certainly have positive results. Put it in your career tool kit now.

Up next: Networking 101: How to do it!