Veterans Transition Tips: Network Outside the Gate
Recent conversations with transitioning veterans have raised concerns on the topic of networking. Networking must be a top priority for all transitioning vets, regardless of your status. Few will argue the importance of networking, and many will insist (solid advice) of the importance of establishing a solid network.
During my military-to-civilian transition in 2015, I realized the majority of my network was either current/active military, or retired/separated military. It is absolutely vital to keep these connections, but take it a step further and connect outside the gate. Establishing a diverse network will work wonders.
Offered below is my list of how to network effectively--and of equal importance, to network outside your comfort zone of your military circle.
1. Connect "Outside the Gate.” If you don't have a mentor in the "civilian sector" who is either a: in a job that you desire, or b: in a position you once desire to be (Director, CIO, CEO, etc.) you absolutely need to establish this baseline. Through networking events, or via professional social media sites (such as LinkedIn), seek to establish a civilian counterpart. Through a professional organization, I was able to connect with a mentor who was a Human Resources Manager for a large civilian company. My mentor shed light to the many differences between the “civilian and the military divide.” We were both able to share experiences and learn from each other. Connecting to someone in the private sector is perhaps the most important networking step you can take.
2. Time to write your networking list. Get a pen and paper and write the names of everyone you know; EVERONE: family members, co-workers, neighbors, church members, softball pals, golfing buddies, etc. This is a potential list of those you can make meaningful connections with. Offer to go for a cup of coffee, meet up at lunch, or have a brief telephone conversation. Ask detailed, targeted questions, not "Hey, how do I land a job as Director in your company?" Instead, reverse the table and ask: "How did you get your start? What did you do right and wrong? What advice do you have for me as a transitioning vet?"
3. Do these two additional steps. Order a professional “networking” business card, and carry a few everywhere you go. Remember that networking list you established? Now is a good time to hand out your networking card, which includes a professional picture of yourself, email address, and phone number. While we are talking email, establish a professional (personal) email address that will be utilized primarily for your networking efforts. Be active in sending emails, and respond to all emails from your network within 24 hours.
4. LinkedIn is not a race to collect connections. I see far too often (and have equally received), LinkedIn requests from someone I know (often, those I don't know), who are likely making the transition. Upon a cursory profile review, their respective profiles have literally hundreds of connections, yet little (or worse, no) activity on LinkedIn. Get involved in groups. Obvious choice: Veteran Mentor Network is a solid start (100,000 plus members). There are literally thousands of other groups, from job seekers to writers groups to professional groups in a ton of categories. Get your account active, and start making meaningful connections! Establish and build a network here on Work of Honor, and other websites. Get your name out there, and continue to connect.
5. Networking is a two-way street. As mentioned above, make connections, but focus less on getting a job and more on how you can assist. Offer to lend a hand (maybe you are an expert wood worker, or a graphic design artist). What can you do to assist others in their transition?
6. The only bad time to network is while you are sleeping. Run into that old neighbor at the grocery store? Pass by a co-worker you haven't seen in 10 years? Stop, chat, and connect. It's not that difficult. Exchange networking cards; reconnect.
7. Very simply: ask for help. You have had much success throughout your military career. You are now at a point where you need help. You need help with the transition, with making valuable connections, with the job search and beyond. Now is the time to pause, reflect, and simply ask for help. Resources are available to you, now is the time to put your active network to use.
What does your network look like?
By: Geoffrey Phillips
Mr. Phillips is an IT specialist and professional policy writer / content editor; a non-starving writer always in search of opportunities; a USAF veteran; and a devote Church Elder and family man. His passion is in the pen and the people; he absolutely loves to assist transitioning veterans, and finds himself at peace when he is doing some sort of writing.