• What is networking?
According to Webster’s dictionary, the definition of networking is: “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically: the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”
As veterans we used such skills daily. When faced with transitioning from service to civilian life, we may not think our skills would apply or forget that we already have such skills. When we relocate to a new assignment either stateside or overseas we have to begin the learning process all over again. Meeting with those individuals that will affect our daily routines and duties, deciding where to live, learning the area and local customs, enrolling our children into the school system, the list goes on. Prior to arriving at our new duty station we need to begin reaching out to offices and departments based on either a physical or mental list of priorities; housing, duty supervisor, transportation, we become familiar with those that we expect to assist or aid us during a major change in our lives. However, when faced with our impending transition to civilian life, it seems we redefine the definition, down play its effectiveness, or simply cannot comprehend that we are, depending on how many years we have spent in the military, professionals at networking.
• When is the right time to begin networking?
The short answer is NOW. No matter how many days, months, even years before your separation or retirement it is always best to begin networking as soon as possible. LinkedIn is a fantastic professional networking tool that I recommend, as is RallyPoint, set up your accounts and get started right away. LinkedIn offers a free premium job seeker account for veterans! Network with those you work with, your supervisors then start branching out as you begin to deep dive into the civilian marketplace. The key is getting started now to grow and build your network over time and continue to do so even after you’ve landed your dream job!
• Strategic networking
This bullet refers to focusing on what’s most important to you. One must first answer that question!
• Location- Is the “where” most important to you?
• Money- Is the size of your paycheck most important?
• Job satisfaction- Are you seeking a career that is rewarding and challenging above all else?
By focusing on a specific area(s), you can then begin to seek out those who have knowledge/experience in that area. Ask questions and be professional. Begin your networking where you are, this means if you are focused on a specific career path upon your exit then reach out to those with a similar career path in the civilian market. If you are focused on a specific geographic location, then begin seeking out companies and organizations in that area and possibly narrow your search to include former military that currently reside and work in that area. Keep it professional and ask questions! To be strategic in your networking you have to ask yourself what your priorities are, what are you seeking and what is the most important to you? Of course, landing a career that encompasses all of these would be ideal, however answering these key components will set you on your journey of strategic networking.
• What’s your battle plan?
Whatever you call it; your mission, objective, plan of action, your results will be determined by the thought and action you put into it. As in the military, preparation is key! Determine your priorities, set your goals, start reaching out and connecting with those that align with your objectives. Networking does not replace applying for positions that match your abilities but it does allow you to gain insight, become familiar with the market, and begin branding yourself, honing and building your focused resume through investigative research into the companies you’re interested in and making some great connections. Building your network can be the difference in the receipt of an offer letter and a fantastic transition. At the end of the day, it’s all about building and nurturing relationships!