Everyone is constantly stressing the importance of networking when it comes to finding a job or advancing a career, but how do you know where to start? Who you should talk to and what should you talk about? Where do you go?

Networking is not something that is taught in the classroom, and for many Generation Xers and baby boomers, it’s not something that they had to do early in their careers. But in today’s competitive workforce, it’s all about who you know. So, what is networking and why do so many find it so intimidating?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, “networking is the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.

Networking is about forming and maintaining relationships. Most people say they rarely engage in networking,  however, if you’ve ever had a job, attended school, volunteered or attended industry events, you’ve networked. Unless you sit in your home day after day, never interacting with a single person--including friends and family--you have networked.

But it’s important to become an effective networker, which starts with avoiding making it so complicated. All you’re committing to is setting out on a journey to connect and reconnect with people you know or want to know. You’re going to spend time speaking with these people and your goal is going to be not only how they can help you, but also how you can help them. People are more likely to help those who want to help them as well.  

Next, make a list of all the people you know that includes friends, family, colleagues and former colleagues or classmates. It's best to include their profession, how you know them, and any contact information. Social media sites can help provide information or help remind you of contacts. Once you have your list complete, make it a living document: keep it up to date and treat it as a personal asset. Networking means always adding links to the chain of people you know.

Next, set up meetings with as many people as you can. Find a common ground and a reason why you should meet in person or have a phone conversation. Talk about their line of work and your career. Discuss each other’s challenges and what opportunities you each seek. From these conversations, you might find ways to help each other. If not, you might at some point in the future so remember to keep in touch.

Finally, grow your network. This is where most people get stuck and can complicate the process. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of experts making a career out of offering formulas for others to follow to learn how to network. The truth is, it really isn’t that hard and doesn’t require an official formula. With every new person you meet in your travels, you grow your network. Joining a professional organization, a club, an intramural sports team, or volunteering can also expand your network. And remember to add every new person you meet to your list and keep in touch with them, and your network will be a list of hundreds or thousands before you know it!

Wall Street veteran Lindsay Broder (on twitter: @occupreneur) is a certified professional coach known as The Occupreneur Coach. Based in New York, she specializes in Occupreneurcareer coaching, strategy & consulting services for highly successful professionals & organizations who strive to improve one or more aspects of their businesses or careers.