by Steven J. Owens (unless otherwise attributed)
There are two tricks to job networking. The first is actually pretty easy - keep track of everybody you meet and be methodical about maintaining relationships with people in your field, or related to your field.
The hard part is getting over the guilt about doing something methodically which you feel should be spontanenous. Just recognize (and repeatedly tell yourself :-) that it's a normal part of the career and that you're actually doing people a service by keeping in touch with them - it flows both ways.
Beyond keeping yourself in the loop, you should always be looking for ways you can help others out, by passing the word about positions that need to be filled, or candidates who need work. If somebody calls you and you're not appropriate, or not available, make sure you don't just shrug and hang up, make it your mission for a day or two to hook them up with some folks. Being on the hiring side, looking in vain for good candidates, can be almost as frustrating as being on the hiree side.
Additionally, this should be a practice that you keep up constantly, whether employed or not:
When you work with somebody and you respect them and think you've earned their respect, don't be shy about approaching them privately and asking if you can use them as a professional reference.
When you're leaving a job behind (if you're a contractor, this happens a lot more often) don't be shy about approaching them and asking if you can keep in touch for professional purposes. Or vice versa, when somebody else leaves the place you're working.
Whether you're on the market or not, you should make a habit of circulating your resume - set up a personal web site and always keep it up to date, including your resume, as well as literally circulating your resume with job shops and keeping an eye on various help wanted ads. Not only does this keep you in the habit, it also keeps you apprised of the market and your current value.
Most good technical people are good at planning and being methodical (it comes with the territory), they just need to refocus those aptitudes on interpersonal/job hunt topics.
The second trick is harder because it's something you have to practice and perfect, which is to be "honestly on the make". You have to get in the habit, when between jobs (or seeing an upcoming completion of a contract you're working on) of shaking hands when you're introduced and immediately following up with "I'm a programmer / techwriter / sysadmin, by the way, do you need or know anybody who needs a programmer / techwriter / sysadmin?"
There's a trick to this, and it's hard to articulate, but essentially, people are much happier with you if you're honest about being on the make. Everybody has been unemployed at some point in their life, and they all understand what it's like. What they don't like is the discomfort that comes when you hem and haw and beat around the bush.
They'll be much happier with you if you're up front about it and get it out of the way as soon as possible, and move on if it's inappropriate. Thus, you're "on the make" but you're also honest about it - you're not beating around the bush and you're not wasting their time and you're not trying to con them.
Also, do it with everybody, no matter how irrelevant they may seem - this is another aspect of the honesty, folks will understand that you're asking everybody and hence won't take it personally.