As you leave the military and begin your civilian career, a well-rounded and focused network of contacts will provide you with a support system, information sources and referrals to keep you thriving. An intentional network provides you with valuable news and information. In today's competitive market, this can give us an advantage—the more information we have, the more power we have.
For the next five days, follow these steps to build and nurture your network to success!
Monday: Organize your contacts.
List out the people you already know into categories: the men and women with whom you served; alumni from high school, college, graduate school; colleagues and co-workers from current and past jobs; and people you've met at events, job fairs, and other gatherings. Put all of these names into a database, such as Excel or Outlook, so you can refer to them.
Previously, I wrote about the three categories your networking contacts fall into: decision maker, information source and cheerleader. Label your contacts by these categories.
Tuesday: Become a resource.
Consider new ways to help the contacts in your network. Send news articles or blogs of relevance to them with a note (for instance, "I remember talking about your love of sailing. Here is an article about new technology in sailboats…"). Refer a colleague to them if you think a relationship could be mutually beneficial. When your contacts see you as a resourceful person who is connected to people and information, you increase your perceived value to them.
Wednesday: Reach out
Connect online and then stay in touch. Even if you don't need something or they don't need something from you, let your network know how you're doing, what you're up to, and what you might have to offer. Online, you might send an "update" or make a post, letting your contacts know what's new in your business or your professional life. Typically, we only hear from people when they need something (a job, advice, a place to stay). Be the person who stays in touch to let your network know the good things happening in your life, too.
Thursday: Identify your potential network
On Thursday, look at your business, your marketing, and your network and ask yourself: Who do I need to know? Who is my target audience? If my network is more information sources than decision makers, who are the decision makers I need to know?
If there's a prospect you don't know, but you should know, consider how you can reach out to that person: Do you know someone who knows him? Are you connected somehow online? Do you attend the same industry events? Then, create a strategy to meet that person using your contacts.
For every favor you ask (e.g., introduction to a hiring manager, connection online, or insight about a job opportunity), be sure to reciprocate with something of greater perceived value (e.g., return a lead, make a direct and valuable introduction, or send a hand-written note of gratitude). A key to building a strong and viable network is to ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial.
Having a clear strategy for the networking part of your personal brand and career empowers you to find and form rewarding relationships. At all points in the networking process -- in person and online -- it is crucial to keep your reputation and goals in check.
Then, act with generosity and you will make a positive impression on the people in the community in which you will work!