It really isn't. Networking, that is. Many people think that the purpose of networking is to make connections that help them out in whatever they are looking for at the time - whether it be a new job, clients, contacts, etc. That just isn't it though. Networking is really about building relationships. I know that you have heard that time and time again, and think to yourself "yes, I know that". But do you really?
Networking is an art not a science. It is not something that many people are comfortable with (or even good at) but it can be learned through practice. It may involve putting yourself into uncomfortable situations...but it will all pay off in the long run. Networking is a relationship between two people that is not solely focused on one of them. To make the most of it, both need to benefit from it. Just calling or emailing someone and then meeting them for coffee/lunch/dinner/whatever doesn't REALLY constitute networking. It is taking that beginning relationship to the next level...where you continue to converse with that person over time, either in person or via email or phone. It is where you exchange thoughts and ideas and where you build trust. It doesn't happen overnight or over a 30 minute meeting - and this is what most people miss. There isn't a magic number of contacts you need to make to get to an interview or to get referred to a new client or contact. It is the quality of those contacts that will get you in the door and up to the next level.
A great blog I just read entitled "Just because we just met doesn't mean I want your resume", sums it up nicely. Someone who you meet once for a short time likely doesn't know you well enough to provide you (or trust you) with contacts and referrals. You need to take the time to build that relationship and then you may get the recommendations that you are looking for. Learn about what that person is interested in - what are their passions? Their job? Family? Pets? Travel? Reading? It can be anything and the key is to take the time to learn about them...and not just tell them all about you.