Human-resources authorities agree that networking is an essential tool in the job-search process. Your network consists of close friends, relatives, and acquaintances. In networking, you tell members of your network that you are looking for a job. They, in turn, spread the word via their own networks.

But where do you start? I suggest that you begin by mapping your job-search network in a three-step process.

STEP 1: Define your job-search network in terms of a number of members and what I call their “acquaintance settings.”

How many members should you include? That depends on how much time you have for networking.

Your overall network is almost certainly not larger than 150. According to Oxford University evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, 150 is the upper limit to how many interpersonal relationships our brain can process; this number is widely known as Dunbar’s Number.

The number of members you select for your job-search network will also depend on how many acquaintance settings are on your map. A person’s acquaintance setting is simply the setting in which you got to know that person well, and you should select settings in which you have large numbers of network members.

The diagram in this article is a network map with eight settings. This map is merely an example; your own map might have a different number of settings, and the settings themselves may be much different.

To keep the process simple, select a number of members that is a multiple of the number of settings. As an example, I will select 64, which is eight members for each of my eight settings.

STEP 2: List the members of your job-search network. If you use the eight-by-eight scheme as in my example, try to come up with at least eight members for each setting. Rapidly write or down or type every name that comes to mind. Keep the members grouped in their settings to help yourself recall other names. And avoid the temptation to filter this list at first, even if you go way beyond eight members for a given setting.

Mapping your network should be a creative process that jogs your memory of associations, groups, or activities in which you have been involved. But if you have a lot of trouble thinking of members for a given setting, replace the setting – or you may want to combine a couple settings and then add one to keep the number at eight.

When you are finished, try to cut the number of people in each setting to eight. You should know each of these individuals well enough to expect a favorable response when you tell him or her that you are in the job market. If you do not wind up with exactly eight names for each setting, do not try to force the process – any final number close to 64 should be adequate.

STEP 3: Organize your network into a contact list. Write the name, phone number, and email address (or social network site) of each person – or type the information into a spreadsheet. Also enter whatever business information you have for your contacts.

Then prioritize your contacts into three equal – or nearly equal – groups by assigning numbers to them: “1” for the contacts you believe are the best connected, “2” for people you think have an average-sized network, and “3” for individuals you suspect are not as well connected as the average person. All of the “1’s” would be your first contacts.

As you start working your network, you can use this document to record such information as the date of the last time you contacted each individual and the results of your last meeting, including information regarding job leads, others to contact, whether you followed up with a letter, etc.

Best of luck in your job search, and thank you for serving in the armed forces of the United States.

P.S.: In case you are interested, here is Dunbar himself talking about Dunbar’s Number.

*Larry Slagel is senior vice president of sales at RecruitMilitary and a former captain in the United States Marine Corps.

By Larry Slagel on Friday August 26, 2016

This article appeared in the September-October 2016 issue of Search & Employ Magazine