Here's an easy way to turn dreaded employment networking into deadly effective bonding:
When you're networking, ask for a reference, not a job.
Whether you're doing catch-up drinks or grabbing lunch to reconnect, your primary need is to get an ally, not a tally of job listings. Recruiting a helping hand to your search is your goal.
So don't ask your college friend if she knows of any jobs for people like you. How would she?
And don't ask your boss from two jobs ago if she has the names of any people who are currently looking to hire somebody like you. It puts her on the spot. Uncomfortably.
No, instead, ask for a reference. Mention that you're going to be moving on, or you're already looking, or that you're actively out on the street. Let them know the type of positions you are and are not suited for, and what you're hoping to achieve in your next opportunity.
And then ask them if - when it gets to that happy place in your search - if it would be OK to use them as a reference.
By not putting them on the spot about specific job openings, you reduce the awkwardness inherent in the networking conversation.
And by letting them know that you hold them in high enough esteem to potentially use them as a reference, you're actually paying them a compliment.
You're also making it easier for them to say "yes", and to feel good about themselves for being a good friend and helping you out with a little favor.
All of which means that you have a new buddy in your search - one who's going to be thinking about keeping an eye out for new opportunities and an ear open for fresh possibilities for their reference-able friend: you.
It's wins and grins all around.
Now, this doesn't work for just any old person you meet on the street. There's probably a pretty good match between people you'd take to lunch and those you could ask to be a reference. So my advice would be to stick to asking those you know well enough.
Being realistic, the widely offered and deeply wrong advice from the past decade that you should try to extract favors, concessions, names, jobs, and career assistance from people you've only met over the phone is not only useless, it can be counterproductive to your aims by antagonizing your broader network.
By making your networking about compliments, you'll find it pays dividends.
Good luck in the search this week!
Marc Cenedella is the Chairman of TheLadders, the premier mobile and online job-matching service for career-driven professionals, which has transformed the way job candidates and employers connect online. Follow Marc on Twitter here @Cenedella.