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The 4 Golden Rules of Networking

March 14, 2016

Even if—especially if—you're not actively looking for a job

“How did you get that opportunity?” My answer: One amazing person. “How did you get that job?” My answer: One amazing person? “How did you get to write that article?” My answer: One amazing person.

One of the most important things I tell people starting out in their careers is that networking is not just a tool to use when you’re job-seeking. In fact, the best time to build your network is when you’re already established in a role. Here are four ways everyone—even people who are happy in their jobs—should make sure they’re constantly growing and nurturing their network.

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1. Ask everyone you work with for 10 minutes
A lot of people look outside of their organizations and leapfrog to different connections, but I think that the inner nucleus around you can be quite powerful. You’ll see these people again, they have stronger connections that will help you move up in your current job and your relationships with them will allow you to learn more about the industry in general. There might even be different moves within your company that could become available to you.

So by the time you leave your company, you should have hopefully met with every senior executive and anyone else who you think is interesting. I tell folks to just ask people for a 10-minute cup of coffee. Most people will say yes to that, especially if they know that you’re not in that moment asking them to do something for you. You’re just asking to talk, to get to know them and to get advice for your future.

Read more: The Secret Networking Tip That No One Tells You

2. Always leave them smelling roses
The flip side of this is that even negative relationships come back around, so I always caution people: Even the worst boss you’ve ever had might someday be in charge of making an important decision that will affect your future. Always be thinking about building your network and what impression you’re leaving on someone, regardless of how well you get along with them.

3. Make connections that have nothing to do with your job
Another easy way to network outside of the job search is through meeting new people who share your personal interests. It’s great to talk to people about things other than business so that you can get a better understanding of what they value outside of the office. That will deepen that relationship and make it easier to reach out to them when you want to make a career change.

I met Dell’s chief marketing officer, Karen Quintos, because we were talking about running routes at a Fortune conference. Later, I received a very out-of-the-blue phone call from her—asking me to be the entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell.

Read more: An Introvert’s Guide to Networking

4. Return the favor
Networking is also a two-way street: You need to make sure you do it for others. I’ve never said no to a networking call. Even if someone contacts me via Facebook or Twitter, I’ll give them 15 minutes. I learned that from Kathy Calvin, president and CEO of the UN Foundation. When I came back from the Peace Corps, she gave me 15 minutes—and I ended up working for her for a decade.

Elizabeth Gore is the entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell and the emeritus chair of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council.