Teaching job seekers how to identify and leverage their network is one of the cornerstones of my coaching: determining who's already in their network and how to leverage those relationships. While networking is critical to a successful job search, it is often one of the most challenging parts for people. Those who are shy or introverted may not feel comfortable reaching out to their contacts. Others may not know how to ask their network for professional support, or worry might look pushy or that they’re expecting favors.Because networking is such a big topic, it warrants two articles. This article will discuss how to identify who's in your network and how they’re connected to your target companies and positions. In the second part, we'll discuss how to ask those in your network to refer you for a specific position. WHY IS NETWORKING IMPORTANT?You’ve probably heard the phrase "your network is your net worth," and it’s true when it comes to your career. When I started working with job seekers, I realized that those who don’t believe that networking is necessary may not actually understand what it is. You may have been told that networking means going to events where you hand out business cards, shake a few hands, fake lots of smiles, and hope that someone will give you an interview or a job lead. Not only is that definition of networking uncomfortable, it's also inaccurate.Effective networking is genuine, enjoyable, and ongoing; it's not a one-time event, and it's not about schmoozing. It's about building relationships with people that you like and respect, and then building on those relationships over time. While new connections can lead to jobs, more often than not, it's the people you already know, like, and trust that will help you get a job offer.Remember, your network is not just your professional connections – it's everyone you know: classmates from college, members of your church and your PTA, people in your neighborhood, colleagues you volunteer with, etc. Think big! You know a LOT more people than you think you do. I also recommend getting back in touch with people with whom you once enjoyed a working relationship or common interest and rekindling those connections.Now that you know how to identify your connections, it’s time to refine them.Step 1: Make a Target Contact List. Go through your LinkedIn, phone, and email contacts, reviewing both personal and professional ones. Build a list of 10 to 15 people that know you well. If they worked with you in a professional setting, that would be ideal, but don't limit yourself to that. The goal here is to identify your strongest connections and let them know you're in a job search and the type of position or company you’re seeking. You may be surprised to learn that you already have connections at a company of interest.Step 2: Make a Target Company List. You probably have a few companies in mind where you’ve always wanted to work. They may be ones you’ve admired or been curious about, or that have a good reputation in your industry. It might seem strange to identify a target company instead of a specific job, but keep in mind that there are more jobs available than the ones you see online. As you identify companies, you’ll also be researching their mission and values, which helps ensure that you’ll be a good cultural fit. Ideally, you want to identify 25 target companies, but even a handful are a good start.Step 3: Compare Your Lists. Compare your list of top connections with your list of top companies of interest, to see where they crossover. You can do this by searching on LinkedIn for your targeted companies and then clicking on the “People” tab to see if you have any contacts working there. You want to focus on your targeted companies where you have the most, and best, connections. This formula gives you the greatest chance of getting a referral.In Part 2 of this article, I’ll explain what to say, and what questions to ask, those connections so you can get referred for positions. For more on this topic, listen to episode 118 of the Career UpRising podcast Leveraging Your Network—Part 1: Who to Connect With on iTunes or at www.careeruprising.com/podcast.