If you ask most job seekers how they start their job hunt, they will usually head straight for the job boards. Job sites are a tried and tested method of landing jobs and you should absolutely be taking full advantage of them in your own job search. But many candidates overlook one of their most valuable careerassets… their professional network.

Your network can often lead you to un-advertised opportunities and allow you to sidestep the competition of the crowded job market. But you need to tread cautiously when leveraging your network to ensure you achieve the best results for yourself without damaging your relationships.

Check out the following tips on using your professional network to hunt down little-known opportunities and grow your influence.

Stay in touch

Don’t be that person who only ever contacts others when they need something, it can be spotted a mile away and won’t make you very popular. Keep in regular contact with your connections, even when you’re not job hunting. You don’t have to meet for coffee every day, but drop them an occasional email or like one of their posts on LinkedIn now and then, just to keep relationships warm. When the time comes that you do make contact regarding job opportunities, it won’t be such a shock to them.

Get organised

Once your job search commences, create a detailed spreadsheet to highlight which of your contacts you will reach out to. You should be able to note down, where they work, what their role is and how you will make contact with them. Create fields to record your contact with each person, what the outcome was, and any actions you need to take. Ideally you should be targeting people who work within your industry and especially those who may have sight of job opportunities such as managers or recruiters.

State your intentions

Once you start reaching out to your connections, whether it be through, email, LinkedIn or events, don’t be shy about asking for what you want. Be direct; say that you are looking for a new role and keen to hear about any opportunities that they know of. As long as your approach is warm and professional, you should only get positive responses. Obviously not everyone will instantly have job vacancies to pass to you, but the more people that know you are looking, the more chance there is of somebody thinking of you when they do hear about an opening.

Offer something in return

Professional relationships are a two-way agreement so don’t expect to reap all the benefits without offering anything in return. If you’re asking people to look out for opportunities for you, at least offer to take them out for a coffee as a way of saying thank you. Kind gestures are fondly remembered and will ensure you stay in your contact’s thoughts for the right reasons. And if somebody actually does manage to put you in touch with a solid opportunity, then be sure to thank them properly.

Stay in touch… again

Once you’ve landed a new role with the help of your network, don’t forget about them. Be sure to drop them a note to let them know how you are getting on and how much you appreciate their help. This will help to strengthen your relationships and may come in handy when you are job hunting again.