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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Even as Americans appear to loathe the term "networking," connecting the dots between trusted contacts and future job opportunities is a big deal for job hunters.

Failing that could be a real deal-breaker for career professionals looking for a landing spot: A 2011 study from Right Management says 41% of all job applicants found new positions through networking, and only 2% through a job advertisement, either online or offline. A 2012 report from ABC News said 80% of all jobs are found through networking and networking events.

For job-seekers in the dark about how to leverage contacts to close a deal with a new employer, it's best to start with the basics — with family, friends and current and former co-workers. College graduates can add academic advisers to the list of people to turn to for career advice and job leads.

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Job-seekers should also always leverage social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook and join as many appropriate online professional groups as you can. Work and perfect your online profile first, as that can smooth your way with new contacts online.

Job fairs and industry trade events are other great ways to add to a network. And job-seekers mustn't be reluctant to ask trusted professionals contacts out for lunch or coffee to catch up and discuss new opportunities.

Where does networking break down?

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For starters, a study from Woodcliff Lake, N.J., talent management firm Lee Hecht Harrison reports that "31% of job-seekers have a difficult time identifying networking partners, while 25% lack a clear strategy for attending networking meetings."

In addition, 24% struggle to make contact and 19% lack confidence in networking situations, the study says.

But you really don't stand much of a chance of getting hired if you don't spend serious time cultivating professional contacts.

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"The reality is that most job openings are never advertised or posted, which means tapping your network is an essential job search resource to uncover hidden opportunities — in fact, 63% of job-seekers land new jobs through networking," says Greg Simpson, senior vice president at Lee Hecht Harrison. "Developing a strong network and fruitful relationships takes real work. Individuals must be proactive and devote time to building and nurturing a strong career network of contacts."

He advises breaking out of traditional modes of contact to meet people who can, in turn, break down barriers for you.

"You won't find networking contacts behind a computer," he says. "Get out and join a professional organization and attend meetings. Before attending a networking meeting, find out who will be attending and set a goal for the number of people you want to meet."

Don't ask for a job at a networking event, he adds. But do ask for referrals and professional introductions. Prepare by, well, being prepared to talk to professional contacts, Simpson advises.

"Reduce anxiety about networking by practicing," he says. "Networking is simply about building relationships, exchanging information and developing new contacts. The key to success is found in making the time and always adding value to the conversation. It's a two-way communication strategy that will deliver job leads with a concerted effort."

— By Brian O'Connell