So, chances are if you’ve already begun transitioning, beginning with DoD TAP (which may go by other names depending on the branch of service), you’ve been told 8-thousand times how critical networking is. Well, please allow me to reinforce it for the 8-thousand-and-first time. However, if your transition is/was anything like mine, after hearing how important it is, you’re still left wondering how you actually do it. Well, allow me to break it down and oversimplify it in one word: Relationship.
There you have it. The article is done. It practically wrote itself. Okay, not really. There’s actually a lot to unpack with what this means, so I suppose I should keep going. So what do I mean by “Networking is a relationship”? Do I really expect you to build a network of 500 people and go out for coffee with each one of them monthly?
No, of course not. You probably don’t even talk to 10% of your Facebook friends monthly, let alone see them face to face. But what I do mean is that you network the same way you build relationships because in a way, it is a relationship; just on a professional level. So let’s look at how we build relationships, and how networking is no different.
Be yourself. This is probably the simplest, but most important aspect of networking. You can’t make friends if you’re trying to be someone you’re not. Same with networking. If you're not an extrovert, don't try to be one. It will come across as disingenuous and people will be able to sense it. However, introverts can still succeed in this environment. You can be an outgoing introvert. Trust me, I AM one! It just takes more practice and is emotionally draining. But it can be done! Just be your genuine self and you'll find that your network will be full of quality, rather than meaningless quantity.
Find Common Ground. It's easier to build relationships based on shared interests. Networking is not different. Share your passions and desires. It'll speak to who you are, but also make you more memorable to the other person.
Be Grateful. When we’re children and we get that first best friend, we are genuinely grateful. Chances are, your professional network as you exit service is going to be relatively small, so when you do make those initial professional connections, be grateful! Quite often, you will be calling on people in your network to take their personal time to meet/converse with you. It is critical to be thankful and humble for their assistance! Continue this as your network grows, and it will open a whole bunch of doors and opportunities you may thought you'd never gain access to.
Be Purposeful. Friends don’t want to be strung along. Neither do folks you’re networking with. Have a plan: What’s your reason for networking? Are you seeking mentorship, employment, or just have questions? All are viable, and you don't need to seek all three, but have some reason. Be sure to have purpose and direction when networking with someone. Just like friends, a huge turn-off for people is when you're trying to establish a meaningless connection with them.
Don't Just Take. Friends don’t like being taken advantage of. Neither does your professional network. Being a resource for someone can sometimes be tiring for the “giver." Don't look at it as a one-way street, but rather a reciprocal interaction that both parties can benefit from. Just starting out your networking and civilian employment journey and don’t have a lot to offer? Refer back to the gratitude and humility that I talked about earlier. That will serve you well early on in your networking, and it will help to keep both parties engaged and interested in maintaining contact.
Circle Back. Friends don’t like being ignored, and neither do people in your network. Don’t be afraid to ask how and when they'd like to be contacted. It's okay to keep a log of what you've discussed, and more importantly, what you'd like to discuss in the future.
Leverage Mutual Connections. Ever meet a friend of a friend and become friends with that person as well? No different here. If there's someone you want to connect with, and you share a mutual friend or connection, leverage it! However, a huge word of caution, always ask the mutual friend for their permission before you drop their name in conversation with the new connection.
Look to Your Left and Right. Growing up, did you ever find yourself on the playground with a group of kids where everyone’s standing around, not sure what to do, but wanting to do something? Well, chances are there are others around you also just starting out their civilian employment journey, and not quite sure where to begin. Connect with them to share resources, ideas, and even opportunities. Lean on each other, share successes, and encourage each other along the way! This brings me to the next point...
Build Upon What You Already Have. Whether you served 4 years or 40, you've worked alongside folks, and chances are, several of them have already gotten out. Well guess what...they're part of your network already. We tend it get so caught upon building a network that we forget about the one that already exists.
If you're like me, every time you got a new phone in the last decade or so, your contact list has rolled over from the old one, and now you've got like 1,000 contacts on your phone. Why not sit down and literally go down that list one by one, looking folks up on LinkedIn and connect with them. You've already built the connection, now you just got send the digital invitation. And who know, some of those folks might be in industries, roles, or companies that you're interested in...and now you've got an insider to leverage!
Share Good News. Friends love to celebrate with you! One of the greatest joys is knowing that you played a part in someone's success. When you have a "win," share it with everyone who helped you along the way, even if it was just encouragement to not quit. Conversely, if the outcome didn't turn out the way you wanted, share how that person still helped you in having a better shot at accomplishing it.
Stay Professional and Positive. Ever have that one negative friend that you hated being around? Yeah, don’t be that person. Also, don’t estrange folks, even if they weren't able to help you the first go-around or at that particular moment. Life has a funny way of working people back into your life, and you'll never know how they could have an enormous impact the next time around!
Participate. Friendship is a contact sport, and so is networking. If you go to a job fair or networking event, don’t just be present, be a participant. Have your elevator speech polished and ready! The more you interact with your community, the more likely you are to build lasting and quality connections that you can leverage down the road.
Networking digitally is no different. LinkedIn is the obvious choice, but regardless of the platform you use, be active. Sharing other people’s material, liking, and commenting is great, but consider creating some original content. Write a LinkedIn article like the one you’re reading, share an inspiring thought or message that you heard, or even go out and find some job openings in your area, field, or role that people in your network might be interested in. Not to mention, staying active on social media helps generate more views, which in turn may expand your network!
Don't Stop! Maybe this isn’t friendship-related, but networking creates opportunity. Approximately 75-80% of all jobs are found directly or indirectly through networking. However, even if you don't need a job at the moment, making networking a regular, daily, life-long practice could result in a later job opportunity that you never saw coming.
Remember alllllllll the way back in Part I when we were discussing managing expectations, and I said that it’s hard to break into certain levels of management, roles, or fields because you’re competing against known commodities? Well, networking is how you combat that! Networking is how you get known commodities to vouch for you, ultimately making you a known commodity! And it works, folks! In my first four jobs post-military, three of them were through networking!
And that's it, folks! This brings the “Service Members, Get Hired” series to a close! It’s been an incredible 3 months and an honor to hopefully be just a small part of your transition. If it has, please share these articles with others to help them as well, and don't ever hesitate to connect with me on LinkedIn. As the only Keith Cassant in the world, it's pretty hard to lay low on social media.
And as always, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!
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