When military members begin to take a step towards exiting the military, they’re often told to network. Because this was not a critical skill development for most in the military, many are at a loss or even worse, misunderstand the idea of networking. Some military members consider networking done because they belong to an alumni Facebook page. But it’s really much more than just a “like” on a social networking platform. Networking is actually a system of sharing information and services among individuals and groups with a common interest. In other words, networking is the deliberate time spent dedicated to creating this group. Developing it early and dedicating time to it often is critical to transition.

Building the Relationship

First, it’s paramount to understand what networking is and what it is not. Networking is about building a relationship – beginning with establishing a rapport with others who truly understand you. At its heart, networking is built on trust, common interests, and shared personality traits. At times it may feel transactional. If feel it’s counterbalanced, you may be doing it wrong. Networking is a give and take that requires nurturing and work. Remember, it’s a relationship. It is not a one time activity or event.

The best networking takes who you really are and demonstrates that to others. If you’re not authentic people will sniff out the fake persona created to impress them in a heartbeat. Don’t look like the command photos on the wall when you network, have a sense of humor. Smile. Approach others with openness and think strategically about those you interact with. Additionally, do not dismiss people. You never know where they may find an opportunity for you.

Be cool and confident. The saying ‘never let them see you sweat’ is very true. If you appear desperate when establishing a networking relationship it’s often dismissed or overlooked. Having confidence is key; think about your strengths. Think about the ways you can give to this person, their business, or organization by being a connector. Make it clear you bring something to the table. Expanding your circle must include people outside of the silo of the military. This harkens back to being open to new experiences.

Know Your Ask

Know your story and your ask. You’ve got an opportunity to develop the next you. The word transition is defined as a process or period of change from one state or condition to another. Former military members networking with you understand this process and the awkwardness that comes along with it. In the military we’re taught to give credit to the team effort. When networking, think about the “me” in team. This turn of phrase might help you remember your individual contributions to some fantastic accomplishments.

Networking is not done overnight. A thousand LinkedIn clicks do not a network make. Let’s begin by looking at where networking is conducted. Start at your current workplace. Use LinkedIn and research the tools available to help you on that site. Check out industry, alumni, school, community groups. Start to see Facebook differently and use it, along with Twitter, as a platform for opportunities. Open your eyes to circles you belong to with friends and associates conjoined with your hobbies or sports.

Nurture the Relationship

Music to my ears is hearing “let me make an introduction.” This opening of doors is pure gold. It’s helpful in many different ways, and critical in your transition. Mentioning to others about your transitioning from the military could open unseen doors. Learn from what works and always remember to quickly follow up. Networking never ends. The relationships built and nurtured today will last a lifetime.

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Candice Frost is an active duty Army officer and a leadership consultant. Her work in intelligence on the Army Staff provides her unique insights on the highest levels of leadership in DoD. She is a public speaker who focuses on mentorship and leader development. She lives in Washington, DC and can be reached at candicefrost1776@gmail.com