My telephone rang recently with a call from an ex-colleague whom I had not heard from for more than 10 years. He said he was interested in catching up.

My (correctly) intuitive response was to ask him when he'd lost his job. I said I would help him if possible, but in truth I really did not feel like putting in more than the basic amount of effort for someone who had not bothered to keep in touch with me.

His approach and my response are typical of the situation in which many candidates find themselves in today's job market. For many, networking only becomes a 'must-do' activity in times of need, when it's actually an essential part of a modern manager's career development armoury.

The two biggest rules of effective networking are: look to help others as much as you want help yourself, and continue to build your network even when your immediate requirement for help has passed. Remember these two rules and you won't go far wrong in developing a solid network of like-minded contacts.

Networking has to be a two-way process: it is no good always being needy because your contacts will quickly tire of the lack of reciprocation and your diary will start to empty. The best networkers are people who not only instinctively collect contacts, but also develop strong relationships by looking for areas of mutual benefit. This could be as simple as always being willing to provide information and offer advice, or coming to informal meetings armed with something of value.

One relatively junior manager I worked with was looking for a way of securing career advice from her old CEO. She thought long and hard about how she might bring something of value to the relationship before she made contact.

Offering the services of her sister as a potential babysitter for the CEO's young children was a stroke of creative genius and proved sufficient to kick the networking relationship off to a good start. Always ask yourself two questions before you pick up the telephone to set up a network meeting: "How can this person help me?" and, more importantly: "How can I help them?"

If you really can't think of anything that would benefit the other party, then the offer of future help is often all that is necessary as long as you are sincere!

Once you have moved to a new position, take the time to thank your contacts for their help and advice. But also keep the networking going by challenging yourself to meet a certain number of contacts outside of work each month.

Take the opportunity to build a strong and valuable network. Someone once said that you can judge a person by the company they keep...