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by Kate White | April 01, 2013
Takeaways

• When networking, don't just talk about yourself; ask questions and really listen to the answers.

• Make time to consider the big picture and not only the pressing matters of the moment.

• Along with cultivating mentors, who give advice, try to develop "sponsors" who can help engineer career moves.

• Be enthusiastic in a job interview, and show that you have done homework about the company.

• If you want the job, ask for it.

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Paving the way to that coveted "big job" is just one challenge, as explored in M&C's March Your Career column ("The Gutsy Path to Professional Success"). Here's advice for keeping the momentum going -- or moving on.

When you network, listen more than you talk.
Networking -- both in person and through social media like LinkedIn -- is essential for success. If you've gotten out of the habit because your job is demanding, get back in ASAP.

Don't make networking all about letting people know what you're up to.
Here's a formula I discovered: Contact plus curiosity creates opportunity. Asking questions and paying real attention to the answers allows you to pick up information you can act on. Trust me, the people you meet will like you even more when you show a vested interest in them.

Stop and think. In my professional life I've always lived by the motto, "You need to know how to drain the swamp as you slay the alligators." In other words, I've trained myself to make time every week to focus on the big picture and not just day-to-day responsibilities.

Block out at least an hour a week to do something about your career, rather than your job. Go hear a wildly successful person speak about his or her path, for instance. Send an email and an interesting link to an old boss of yours.

Also use the time just to think: How quickly is your field shifting, and what new skills are you going to need in order to thrive? Mull a bit. Are you too comfy at your job? When you're comfy, you're not challenged anymore and it's time to think about the next step. Then act on that gut instinct.

Seek sponsors, not mentors. An interesting study reported on in the Harvard Business Review stated that when it comes to promotions, sponsors -- people who can and will help you get ahead -- can be more important than mentors. Mentors give advice or set examples, but sponsors open doors. Be sure you are developing sponsors as well as mentors. (Note, the study reported that men seemed to be better at this.)

Sometimes sponsors will volunteer to open a door, but there will be times when you have to come right out and ask. For instance, "There's a job open in your company that I think I'd be a great fit for. Would you be willing to introduce me by email to the person in charge?"

Go big in the interview.
OK, you've set things in motion, and now you have an interview lined up for a job at a great company. Don't be afraid to show them the love. I've interviewed literally hundreds of job candidates in my career, and many of them seemed as enthusiastic as someone discussing an upcoming colonoscopy. A recent study concurs. When asked to identify the biggest mistake candidates made in an interview, 55 percent of interviewers said lack of enthusiasm.

Give a firm handshake and hold eye contact.
Smile. Exude positive energy. Ask interesting questions that show that you're pumped and have done your homework. Don't be afraid to show that you'd love the job. And then ask for it. One of the people who hired me for my first editor-in-chief job told me afterward, "We loved that you asked for what you wanted."

Kate White (katewhite.com) served as editor in chief of Cosmo­politan magazine for 14 years. She is the author of the New York Times bestseller I Shouldn't Be Telling You This: Success Secrets Every Gutsy Girl Should Know and a speaker on career success.