If you work in the Intelligence Community you know building connections is always hard. Even those with years inside a particular agency find it’s difficult to transition into the private sector or a new company. The information is need-to-know, and when it comes to networking, it’s easy to feel like an outsider trying to crack the secret code.
The difficulty only increases for college grads and entry-level professionals. Enter the Intelligence and National Security Alliance’s Speed Mentoring events. If you’ve heard of speed dating, you’re familiar with the concept. In a fast-paced and competitive hiring market, this fast-paced networking style can be particularly helpful.
“Right now within the community, it’s crunch time,” said Mike Bruni, Talent Acquisition Manager, Mission Support Group for Leidos. “Within the past few years there was a decline, and budget crunch…we have a surplus of very qualified, very brilliant junior professionals, and we just don’t have the opportunities.”
The event was born out of an awareness that there is a large pool of candidates interested in intelligence careers who don’t know how to get their foot in the door to pursue positions. There are multiple barriers to entry for these professionals, from lack of a security clearances in some cases to simply lack of awareness of where the opportunities are, noted Bruni.
The format of speed networking is particularly helpful to early stage professionals, who may not have a lot of experience at traditional career fairs or trade shows.
“At a traditional networking event, it’s all up to you,” said Bruni. “The majority of folks, particularly junior professionals, are very uncomfortable with that.”
The structured approach to speed mentoring means every attendee is guaranteed to meet at least 5-10 mentors through the course of the event. Whether they’re actively looking and handing out resumes or just looking to build a rapport and perfect their elevator speech, it’s an ideal opportunity to meet both potential employers and government leaders.
“This is an industry where access is required,” said Bruni. Speed mentoring is just another way to give junior professionals the access they need.
Speed networking tips:
- Craft an elevator speech. Even if you have your resume in hand, be able to give everyone you meet a reason to follow-up with you based on your pitch. It should be 30-seconds or less, and well-practiced.
- Network with other attendees. The general purpose of a speed networking event is to connect with the mentors and employers. But if you only talk to those people, you’re really missing out. Other attendees may know of employment opportunities within their company, or they might just be involved in a really cool degree program you’d benefit from knowing about. Don’t be a selfish networker – build connections with everyone.
- Follow-up. Speed networking, like speed dating, is designed to wet the appetite for a future relationship, not be the relationship. The networking event isn’t the main event, it’s the introduction. Follow-up with everyone you meet via email, and if you really want to make an impression, a hand-written note (yes, people still do this).
- Think like an analyst. Not everyone in the IC does intel, but if you’re at a networking event, you need to think like an analyst. Have a game-plan before you go, and gather as much information as possible. Think of everyone you meet as a potential asset. And a little James Bond charm wouldn’t hurt, either.