If the thought of networking makes your blood run cold, don't panic. Few people relish the thought of 'working a room', like some Hollywood wannabe, hoping to hobnob with the great and the good. But all of us can benefit from having a wide range of contacts in our industry sector, and that includes even the most technically brilliant civil engineer.
'All that air kissing and luvvie stuff is part of a different realm - you don't have to be an extrovert to network successfully, ' says organisational consultant Dena Michelli, herself a mechanical engineer. 'In fact, networking with extroverts can be very draining, because they take all their energy from other people.
All you need to do is have a normal conversation with people.'
Michelli recommends a systematic, well-organised approach to civil engineers who want to get ahead.
'You need to be very clear about what you are doing, what you want to get from your network and what you are giving back, ' she says.
'Taking the logical, technical approach should appeal to engineers. Map out your contacts, set yourself objectives, make a graph of who you know. Using a mechanistic approach doesn't mean it isn't authentic.'
Peter Purdom of Working futures. com, the online career management advisor, says no one can afford to overlook networking as a route to new jobs or promotion. 'Between 50 and 75 per cent of all jobs are filled through the hidden employment market, ' he says. 'Most employers would rather avoid the cost of advertising vacancies.'
Purdom says there is no need to be embarrassed about approaching friends or colleagues. 'Many people hold back from using personal contacts, but when people are approached by a friend, they are usually delighted to help and feel flattered that you think they are important enough to be of assistance, ' he says.
Even so, it may be reassuring to some engineers to know that there are ways of networking which do not involve any face to face communication at all. Reading notice boards, trade magazines and newspapers is essential.
'Some of the best kept secrets are published but not read by the people who would most benefit from them, ' says Neasa MacErlean of the Institute for Personnel and Development in her book 'Get more from work - and have more fun'.
And the internet can also be a useful tool for those of a peoplephobic disposition. Dena Michelli says as long as you realise there are limits to what emails can do, they can give you lots of additional leads about what is happening outside your company.
'It's a one-dimensional form of communication, so you have to be skilled in the way you use it, ' she says. Used in the right way, the internet can broaden your reach, and find out what's happening on the other side of the world. 'You have the globe at your fingertips - and you can pick up valuable information, ' she points out.
And finally, Michelli stresses that networking is increasingly important in the engineering job market.
'Only if you are very lucky will your career progress without networking, ' she warns. 'By that, I mean someone with highly specialised skills who is very sought after, so that there may be a small window which you are hoping to go through.
'But the danger is that you will miss that window if you are not considered to be the top of the tree, if you have not been noticed or are not aware of the opportunities.'
Be clear about your objectives Keep up with trends and news in your industry - networking means passing information on, as well as receiving it.
Use the internet and e-mail to keep up with contacts overseas - but don't use e-mails instead of talking to people.
Don't overlook friends and informal contacts - they will be pleased to help