Networking sounds dirty, doesn’t it? When you are in military transition, the idea of calling up Good Ol’ Bob or Friend Judy from three duty stations ago for an “informational interview” sounds awful. It sounds like begging. It sounds like imposing. It sounds like the kind of thing only losers or dirtbags would do.
Besides, look at it from Good Ol’ Bob’s or Friend Judy’s point of view. While you were enjoying the security (and dirt and danger and deployment) that comes with being in the military, they were working their way up the civilian ladder. Which was no joyride, thanks.
So now you are leaving the military, you want to swan in out of the blue and know everything they know about civilian work for the cost of a phone call and a shared memory? Sounds like a dirtbag move, doesn’t it?
How to make networking feel normal
Well, no. Networking is actually an expected behavior from you during your military transition. When 85% of candidates get their jobs through networking, you would be a fool not to network. While your network includes friends and neighbors and past mentors, it also includes Good Ol’ Bob or Friend Judy--even if you have not been in touch in a while.
For my clients, the big surprise is that these people are usually happy to talk -- mostly because they, too, got their job from their own Good Ol’ Bob or Friend Judy. It is a pay-it-forward world we are living in, folks.
How do you know if you are networking in the post-COVID environment or acting like a dirtbag? There is an easy trick to know whether it is OK to call, and it is something you do all the time without thinking about it.
Here is the trick:
In military life, mid-career military and senior leaders talk about other active-duty members in a certain way. When they refer to someone in their network in conversation, they drop three facts about that person:
- Where they were.
- Where they are.
- Where they are likely to go next.
For example, some Marine will say, “You know Jim. He was a tanker who works at MCRD and he is waiting to go back to the Pentagon for acquisitions.”
Or a Navy guy will say, “You know Aisha. She was in Millington, and now she is XO of GreatBigShip. She should be fleeting up to CO next Christmas.”
Same thing holds true for veterans in civilian networks. You will hear something like, “You know Ken. He was a surface guy who got out and started working for Northrop. Now he is doing systems engineering for them.”
Or “Remember John? He was a battalion commander and then took that job at OSD. I heard they are moving out to the West Coast once their kid graduates.”
If you know a Bob or a Judy well enough to know where they were, where they are and what they likely will do next, then they are in your network and it is OK to reach out by email or through LinkedIn. If you don’t know these things, or you forgot, it is fair to look them up and find out (which is what LinkedIn is for).
What's a dirtbag move?
NOTE: If you ever skewered Good Ol’ Bob’s on his OER, or screamed at Friend Judy so much her hair fell out, don’t expect them to be glad to hear from you. That really would be a dirtbag move.
So, go ahead and reach out to the people who are legitimately in your network even when you think the connection is tenuous. If they liked working with you in the past, they will probably be willing to talk in the future. Also, thank them for their time profusely and follow up with the recommendations they made. Their time is even more valuable now.
After you get your own civilian job, resolve to be one of those veterans who takes these calls from the transitioning soldiers, sailors, Coasties, Marines and airmen who come behind you. Because the world of work doesn’t turn without Good Ol’ Bob and Friend Judy and you working your magic for us all.
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Jacey Eckhart is Military.com’s Transition Master Coach. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.