During your transition, you were likely introduced to the concept of networking. Civilians network for many reasons, including to develop business leads, learn about a company or industry, introduce (or sell) a product or service, or to expand their circle of influence and referrals.
Most of the veterans with whom I've worked are resistant to the networking concept, believing it is a form of disingenuous manipulation used by people of questionable character.
In reality, networking is a way of building professional relationships that can add value to your career when done correctly. Whether you are looking for a job, clients or more interesting projects, a strategic network of contacts will be a critical part of your professional success.
How Networking Works
We network everywhere on a daily basis. From the person you meet standing in line at Starbucks, to the hiring manager you're interviewing with, to the attendees you meet at a job fair, to the mom who just dropped your son off from soccer, we are always meeting new people and deciding whether to form a networking relationship with them. The problem is that most people don't look at networking as a strategic and focused effort; they leave their networks to chance.
When we network with each other, we consciously exchange business information (and cards), connect online and follow up to explore a mutually beneficial working arrangement. This is conscious and intentional networking.
3 Critical People in Your Network
Since strategic ("intentional") networking takes time and attention to nurture, I suggest you take a focused approach to deciding with whom to network. For instance, it would make sense that you would spend time networking with people who can transact with you (e.g., buy from you or hire you). I advise that you also look beyond just those people who can hire or contract with you and broaden your perspective and contacts.
There are three people you should seek to connect with, and cultivate a networking relationship with, to be successful in your civilian career:
These are the contacts that can provide you with direct leads or work, or bridge you to contacts that can. For example, decision makers are hiring managers, procurement personnel, clients, customers or agents who can transact with you, hire you, buy from you, connect you to someone who might hire you or refer you to an opportunity.
Information sources are people we meet who provide valuable insight into companies, industries, trends and people you need to know. When you meet an information source, you are likely impressed, amused or interested in the fact that they know a lot about something you don't know much about. They may or may not ever be decision makers, but they provide great value to you in your career. For example, you might meet someone with a deep knowledge of marketing, human resources or technology who can be helpful as you position yourself for a new job or a promotion.
You will surely meet individuals who don't have decision-making capability and maybe don't even have unique information for you, but their personality, energy and spirit lift you up. These are your cheerleaders, and they are critical to a healthy network of contacts. Your cheerleaders provide references and testimonials and vouch for you and your abilities when you need support. They might be a friend from your past or a colleague at your current job who is upbeat and optimistic in times of stress.
While each of us has family, friends and people with whom we associate, an intentional network is a group of contacts you specifically recruit, maintain and nurture a relationship with. Instead of just focusing on networking with people who can hire you, broaden your view to include people who add information and support to your career.
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