Networking, networking, networking. When it comes to our careers, it’s a nonstop mantra that keeps repeating over and over in our heads:

We need to network. We need more professional connections. It’s all about who you know and who they know.

Sound familiar? Most likely even if you aren’t saying it, someone around you is.

And either you are a professional networking star or a networking dud. Rarely is someone in between. Either you make new “friends” fairly easily (extrovert) or you struggle to even get comfortable with the idea much less really “network” (introvert).

But as I wrote about in “The Problem With Networking,” although the extroverts seem to hold all the cards in the networking scramble, more often than not, they are stuck in a continuous loop, much like hamsters on a wheel, gathering names and connections like nobody’s business but often not really getting anywhere with the process.

They have professional meet-ups, Starbucks chats, Google hangouts, lunch meetings galore. It seems like everybody knows them, and they know everybody. They’re feeling really good about all of it. But here’s the key:

The length of their job search is just as long, and although they appear busy, they aren’t really progressing.

How can this be if networking really is so effective in the job search process?

The answer:

Because although networking is great and the “who you know” mantra is wonderful, there’s a key concept often overlooked: positioning.

Networking without proper positioning is often a cruel sport.

It can lure you into this sense of accomplishment without really having accomplished much other than to have met a lot of nice people (and to have consumed a lot of Starbucks coffee).

Now, I know what you might be thinking, “But I’m attending meet-ups with my professional associations (aka my ‘target market’), and I’ve met a lot of people in LinkedIn groups who are in my field. I’ve asked ALL of them if they know of any openings. So how much better positioned can I be?”

There’s no doubt, if this is you, you’ve done some great things here…and it can work quite well when you stumble across just the right person who happens to know just the right person who has an immediate need for someone like you.

BUT what about when that doesn’t happen? What do you do? Most likely, you keep running through the same loop, hoping for a break.

There’s nothing new under the sun here: This is a typical sales conundrum…a lot of lookers but no buyers.

Here’s the problem: It isn’t that you aren’t networking; it’s that you still aren’t positioned with your networking to get in front of the real decision makers.

You’ve asked them about active openings or almost active openings, but you haven’t really asked them the important question: just to get you an audience.

A really successful networker understands not just connections but audience. He or she will not be solely focused on whether a company has active (or about-to-be active) openings or whether there is a shortcut around HR (which is nice too). In addition to all of that, he or she will mostly be focused on getting positioned in front of the right audience so that the dialogue begins, not just with those who are out there watching out for us but also with people who could actually be the ones to make the decision to hire us someday.

The point is to start planting seeds and to eliminate the middle man.

Listen. If you only speak with the “lookers,” the best you can hope for is a good word someday, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but you remain a layer or two away from the person who is actually in a position to buy.

So figure out who holds the cards and get in front of that person. That’s using networking with positioning.