Many articles and books on career transition highlight the importance of networking as a critical component of the job search process.
Merriam-Webster defines networking as:
The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions; specifically, the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.
Building relationships within the military and with other agencies and external partners while you are still on active duty, may not seem like “networking.” Yet, in fact, you are cultivating a network, within necessary ethical and legal parameters, when you speak with colleagues at interagency meetings, meet people at receptions or when you visit with elected representatives and industry leaders. You are building trust and credibility as you exchange information and deliver your military service’s key messages to others.
Remember, building your network is like cultivating a garden. If you don’t water it regularly or maintain your contacts on a regular basis, don’t expect much of a yield come harvest time. It’s never too late to start. As with gardening, building a productive network takes ongoing effort and commitment.
As a senior military leader preparing for transition, you will now become both the message and the messenger in your networking activities. As you put together a strong resume and cultivate old and new relationships, you have the opportunity to share with others the talents, passion and commitment that you bring to the table.
Here are some key networking tips to keep in mind:
- Build a list of everyone currently in or targeted to become part of your network. Start with current and previous colleagues, supervisors, mentors, friends and family.
- Use social media, such as Twitter and LinkedIn, and join professional associations in the industry or field you plan to pursue.
- Don’t feel guilty about reaching out to friends, colleagues and strangers. This is part of the process and you do not reflect weakness in doing so.
Remember, you are your own best spokesperson and sales representative, even if the idea of “selling yourself” feels daunting or unnatural to you. While you may be well known as a leader within your military service, external networking will help prospective employers and colleagues get to know why you’d be a great fit for their agency or company.
- Everyone is a potential resource and source of helpful information, from the front office receptionist to the company CEO. Be flexible, positive and willing to learn from others, no matter how senior you are or how junior they might be.