By Erin Conroy -- AP Business Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — You should've kept in touch with that old colleague, and you never did send a card to your former boss around the holidays. Now you're out of a job or uncertain about your career, and feeling awkward about reaching out.

Career coaches agree that even if reconnecting with stale networking contacts is uncomfortable, it's a vital part of job hunting.

"We often don't realize that we have a treasure trove of relationships we've built over the years, and that when you leave a company, you take the people you've met with you," said Liz Lynch, founder of the Center for Networking Excellence in New York. "It can be the greatest resource we have."

Step 1: Don't Be Shy

Whether you're rebuilding a workplace bond that's faded or digging up the business card of an acquaintance whose face escapes your memory, don't feel guilty. They haven't contacted you either, said Sandra Naiman, an independent career development consultant in Denver.

"Remember that you had a rapport with them at one point, and that hasn't gone away just because you haven't been in touch," Naiman said.

The best thing to do is reach out to former contacts, ask how they've been and let them know your situation. Don't be shy about using details you remember — like their children's favorite sports teams — to plant the seeds of trust, said Joe Takash, a performance management coach with Victory Consulting in La Grange Park, Ill.

If the idea of tapping someone out of the blue makes you squirm, try to connect first with a mutual friend and ask how your prospective contact is doing. When you do later connect with your former acquaintance, mention that you've spoken to the friend you have in common.

And if calling people during a time of need makes you feel desperate, Lynch suggests going to events you know they'll attend. Just don't pretend it's a total coincidence.

"Tell them it's great to see them again and get right into what they're doing and what you're up to, without making much of the fact that you both happen to be there," she said. "The important thing is to make a connection."

Step 2: Be Blunt

You don't want it to seem as if you're asking for a handout. Still, you have to be transparent.

"Most people understand what's going on with the economy, and they'll probably be happy to hear from you," said Jennifer Grasz, a spokeswoman for CareerBuilder.com. "But you need to be up-front about your intentions."

Ask for something that's easy to give, like advice, information or insight, said Lynch, of the Center for Networking Excellence.

"Nobody's got a job in their back pocket for you, or is gonna say, 'Oh great that I saw you, I've been saving this job for you,'" she said.

Intead of asking to take someone out for an hours-long lunch to pick his or her brain, suggest a 10-minute call about something specific. It'll show that you've thought about your next step and that you're not wasting everyone's time.

If you liked this article you might like

Counterfeit Toys Are a Consumer Rip-Off -- And Health Hazard to Children

Obamacare Contraception Mandate Woes Continue

Cannabis Colleges Educate Budding Ganjapreneurs

4 Things to Avoid Before Closing on a House

Why 401(k) Savers Are Like Bad Boyfriends