The old saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” has perhaps never had more resonance than it does in today’s MBA graduate recruitment market. As the global employment market has contracted in the past three years in line with the global economic turmoil; having access to a wide and diverse range of contacts has never been more important.

According to research into corporate recruitment released by the Graduate Management Admissions Council in June, 76 percent of employers are now using staff referrals for recruitment.

Vanessa Gough, recruitment manager at IBM, says developing a network of contacts is “vital” to a successful career.

“Building your networking skills will help you create business relationships, which can help to open doors and give you access to career opportunities,” she adds, although she is keen to point out that networking is also about gaining access to skills and expertise that you do not possess. “So if you need help, or an answer to a question, there’s always someone in your network who will be able to provide it — or find someone who can.”

But the idea of networking fills a majority of people with dread and even fear. Heather White, chief executive and founder of Smarter Networking, a company that coaches people in networking skills, says it is important to remember that natural networkers are in the minority. “Maybe 5 or 10 percent of people are naturals; for the rest of us, it’s a task or discipline that is self-motivated.”

Rachael Barker, alumni relations manager at Cambridge Judge Business School, says few MBA candidates truly have the skills to network when they first arrive. “It is a skill that has to be nurtured. A relationship-building tool as it isn’t just about getting a job. Stick at it and not expect a quick return.”

Give yourself a mission for the evening, advises Trixie Rawlinson, a senior partner at Impact Factory, a training company that specializes in personal and professional development. “Give yourself a hit list of about five people you want to meet and be clear what you what to achieve. Do you want to get their card or just make contact?”

“If you have a realistic task and you decide in your mind that it is fine to just do that; it will take the embarrassment out of asking for something.”

Karen Siegfried, MBA executive director at Cambridge Judge, says that maintaining and cultivating contacts is critical. “If you neglect it, it is more time consuming to reignite it than it is to build a new one. People are realizing the importance of being called up for a drink or lunch.”