Jenifer Harrington wasn't looking for a new job when she accepted her current position nine months ago. She was just tired of always rejecting...

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Jenifer Harrington wasn’t looking for a new job when she accepted her current position nine months ago. She was just tired of always rejecting potential offers.

The 29-year-old sales director for business publisher Jeffrey Press Inc. goes out of her way to establish relationships with anyone she does business with.

“If you’re good at networking, you should never have to look that hard to get a job,” Harrington said.

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Networking remains one of the best ways to find work or earn a promotion, experts say, even in the realm of electronic résumés and online applications.

The concept is based on building relationships with people who can help someone improve their business or career. It is a process that involves making connections with colleagues, peers and business associates as well as strangers.

Networking can make some people cringe, but others, including Harrington, see it as a way of life.

By using personal connections, job seekers can distinguish themselves and display the coveted people skills many employers seek. Several recruiters and hiring managers agree that a referral can make the difference between tossing a résumé away or giving it a second look.

“People think that networking is some specific thing,” said Peter H. Shankman, chief executive and founder of the Geek Factory, a marketing firm in New York. “Networking to me is as natural as breathing.”

Shankman said anyone — someone he is sitting next to on a plane, someone standing next to him in a line, someone selling hot dogs on a corner — can be a source. He once landed a client because someone noticed a Homer Simpson sticker on Shankman’s laptop and asked about it.

Children are often taught never to talk to strangers, but Shankman said that advice is worthless in business. He encourages people to “dispel the myth” about approaching someone they don’t know.

Shankman casts a wide net all by himself, but that is not always necessary because of the Internet.

Online sites such as have emerged during the past few years, providing an electronic business network and jobs board for members.

The free site allows anyone to sign up, but members can connect only with people they know or by getting mutual networking members to introduce them to someone else.

Networking with strangers can work, but it’s risky, said Konstantin Guericke, LinkedIn’s co-founder and vice president.

“Referral is what it’s all about,” he said.

Other resources are industry membership organizations that sponsor national and local networking events.

Everyone has a network but might not know it, said J. Michael Farr, an author of several job-search guides. Farr tells job-seekers to make lists of people they know and to call all of them to ask whether they know about job openings or for names of people who do.

“Most will say, ‘Of course I want to help you,’ unless they are a terrible person,” Farr said. “Friends, relatives or acquaintances are the most common resources.”

Shankman’s philosophy is that personal connections make a difference.

“You have to be memorable. Companies don’t hire; people hire people,” said Shankman, who reviews dozens of applicants for his company. “The ones I’m going to remember are the ones most like the person and less like a résumé.”

Making the connection requires being a good listener who lets others talk and disclose information about themselves.

The worst mistake people make, Shankman said, is to start a conversation with what you need, such as, “Hi, I’m looking for a job.”

Debra Fine, author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk,” suggests never asking detailed questions about people’s jobs or families when meeting them for the first time.

“That gives the impression you are a taker, not a giver,” she said.

And she said good networkers take the initiative.

“You can’t hope that someone walks up to you,” she said. “What I make myself do is walk into a room and look for approachable people, someone standing by themselves not engaged in an activity. … Everyone out there is looking for the perfect icebreaker.”