I recently attended a networking event and watched a young man commit a huge networking sin. It was like witnessing a car wreck in slow motion. It was painful. Yet I couldn't look away. His networking technique was terrible, and he looked miserable. Most people hate networking. Unfortunately, it also happens to be one of the key activities in finding a new job.

But what if you could use networking to make jobs come to you?

There's a technique you can use to tap into what's known as the "hidden" job market. That's all those open jobs out there that aren't posted online. How do you learn about them? Via referral. Someone you know, knows someone, who knows about a job inside a company you want to work for. The hiring manager is looking for the perfect candidate, but doesn't want to post the job publicly because he or she A) doesn't want to get inundated with applications from people who aren't a fit, or B) is trying to fill the job secretly and doesn't want a lot of people knowing about it. Either way, you'll never hear about those jobs unless someone tells you about them. The following technique can help make that happen.

When it comes to networking, the mantra today is, "Your network is your net worth. So invest wisely."

The more you serve and help your network, the stronger it will be. The more you give, the more you get. The mistake made by the poor young man I witnessed was his blatant attempt to get something from the people he was meeting without first gaining credibility and trust. To do that, he should have focused on having meaningful conversations with those people. When we exchange thoughtful dialogue with fellow professionals, we build a connection from which a relationship can blossom. And that's when the hidden job market can reveal itself to you. When you make yourself memorable via interesting dialogue, people remember you when they hear about potential job openings.

It works like this:

You meet Fred at an event and have a deep conversation about new digital marketing strategies. A couple of weeks later, he's in a meeting and a manager announces the need to find a new digital marketing person who understands changes in the technology. Your networking buddy remembers the conversation you had and says, "I met someone recently who might be able to help here." Next thing you know, you're getting an email from Fred asking if it's OK if he introduces you to the hiring manager. The rest is history.

So, the question becomes, "How do I start a meaningful conversation?" 

The answer is simple: Focus on asking open-ended questions. The kind that require more than a one-word answer. You might ask:

  • Why did you decide to come to this event?
  • How did you get into your career?
  • What do you like most about working for ___?

Any kind of question that gets the other person talking and lets you sit back and listen is a good one. When people feel listened to, they like you more. This is how you build trust and respect when networking. You'll learn a lot about the person, and that will make it easier to stay in touch and keep the conversation going, too. Think of how natural it will be to follow up and ask to connect on LinkedIn. Or send an email sharing an article or video you think he or she would find useful. These actions will lead to the person getting to know the kind of professional you are, making it possible for him or her to want to recommend you for a job in the future.