(CareerBuilder) -- Time is of the essence, not only in life, but also in your job search. Whether you've just had an interview, met a new contact or gotten off the phone with a recruiter, you must act quickly -- potential jobs and connections can be gone in a flash.
"Every move you make in approach and response to any opportunity is greatly magnified in your audience's eyes. For better or worse, this fact can be unfair unless you use it to your advantage," says Gordon Curtis, author of "Well Connected."
"If you are the quickest to respond to an opportunity or the fastest to follow up on a conversation, you will be considered the most responsive person overall, even if, truth be told, you actually are a procrastinator."
But the circumstances in which immediacy is key vary. After an interview, for example, it's imperative to follow up right away to extend the positive impression you made, says Colette Ellis, founder and head coach at InStep Consulting.
"In today's tight job market, it's important that job seekers do all they can to stand out from the crowd. If they wait too long to follow up, the interviewer may forget about them -- and why they're the best candidate. The interviewer could even fill the position in the interim."
While you want to show responsiveness and interest, the key to following up after an interview is control, Curtis says.
"Retain control by not leaving voice mails or e-mails that basically say, 'Don't forget about me,'" he says.
Instead, try the following techniques:
"If you can't reach the interviewer by phone, hit zero to be forwarded to someone (anyone) you can ask when a better time to call is. If they ask you to leave a message, graciously reply, 'I'm happy to call back so he or she doesn't have to chase me down.' If your follow up is via email, end it with, 'I'll follow up again shortly unless you catch me first,'" he says.
When it comes to tapping into your network or new contacts, you may not need the same velocity as when you're following up after an interview. And if you take the right approach, you don't risk losing a potential connection, Curtis says.
"If they are taking time to be focused, targeted and strategic with the most valuable people, they won't miss out on a thing," he says.
Echoes Ellis: "Job seekers should take time to get to know the people in their network so that they can maximize their connections and find ways to build professional relationships beyond their job search. It's not about attending tons of events, tossing out hundreds of business cards and résumés and hoping things will pan out," she says.
"It's about being strategic in your approach: selecting specific events that are relevant to your target industry; engaging in thoughtful conversations with new and current connections; being diligent about following up on new leads and contacts; and staying in contact with your network to let them know your progress and offering to help when you can."
If you need help networking efficiently, here are five tips from Ellis:
1. Respect other people's time. "Remember that when you initiate a call, it might not be the best time for the other person to speak. Ask if they have a few moments to speak with you. Prepare what you're going to say in advance so you can get to the point quickly."
2. Be clear about what it is that you need from your network. "The more clearly you can describe your goal and the input you need from the other person, the easier it will be for him or her to help you, or let you know when they can't help."
3. Get to know your connections. "Ask about their goals and interests so that you can find ways to be resourceful on their behalf. Also, make sure you understand enough about their business, industry and network so that you know what new connections they can help you make."
4. Say thank you. "Even if the introduction or connection doesn't pan out for you, remember that the other person still took time out to help you. Thank them for their efforts and keep them posted on your progress."
5. Find ways to help people in your network. "You can best build on your relationships when you find ways to be a resource for others. Think of your own assets and connections. Ask your connections what they're seeking to accomplish or learn more about and then be proactive about finding ways to help them. Networking is a two-way street. It's not just about what you can get from others; it's also about what you can offer.
"If you stay in touch with people in your network consistently and remember to ask about their needs, interests and accomplishments, you'll be seen as a helpful person. Most people like to help other helpful people."
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