If you're in the market for a new job, now's a pretty good time to look. With the new year just kicking off, many companies have more wiggle room in their budgets to fill new positions, not to mention time in their schedules to manage the interview process.

You're probably aware that part of the secret to increasing your chances of getting hired is to present a strong resume and hone your interview skills. But if you really want to give yourself an advantage when seeking out a new job, there's an even more important task to tackle as well: networking.

More than 70% of professionals get hired at companies at which they have an existing connection, according to LinkedIn. This means that if you apply to a company where you already have an in, your chances of landing an offer are that much higher. And that's reason enough to make networking an integral part of your job search.

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It pays to know the right people

While your resume and cover letter might say a lot about you, there's nothing like a personal endorsement from a trusted source to increase your chances of landing a given role. That's why it always helps to know people at the companies you're applying to. Not only can they make sure your resume doesn't slip through the cracks, but they can also put in a good word with the hiring managers tasked with filling open roles.

Of course, it won't always be the case that you know someone at a company you're looking to work at. What then? Well, the answer might boil down to being bolder about requesting introductions. If you don't know people at the companies you're applying to but do know people who know some of those people, reach out and ask to be connected. You might, for example, invite an associate to lunch and expressly ask that person to bring his or her contact at your target company along. You can explain that you're interested in learning more about that company and possibly applying and that you'd like the opportunity to meet someone on the inside. Chances are, that associate will be more than happy to comply.

At the same time, it always helps to build your network in general. That means attending everything from formal industry events to local meetups. And don't forget that a lot of networking can be done online, too, whether via sites like LinkedIn or other forums.

Finally, it helps to find like-minded professionals who are interested in growing their networks and join forces. If you and three contacts start planning a monthly outing in which you each bring three new friends or associates, you'll all eventually end up meeting more people.

While jazzing up your resume and practicing your interview skills will no doubt increase your chances of getting hired this year, if you really want to improve your odds, get better about networking. The more people you know, the more likely you'll be to get hired -- or at least get your foot in the door -- on the basis of someone else's firsthand recommendation.