4 Networking Tactics for Veterans

Soldier sitting in chair talking to businessman


By Peter A. Gudmundsson

Most people know that networking is the critical foundation of any job search. Unfortunately, most people – including veterans – are terrible at professional networking. Beginning with a basic misunderstanding regarding the purpose of networking, most job seekers either do not attempt the effort or poorly execute it. Any job seeker who expects to be successful must learn the four steps to effective networking and relentlessly practice them with vigor and resourcefulness.

The good news for veterans is that, because of their service, most Americans are eager to help them succeed in their job searches and careers. However, veterans themselves are solely responsible for their job-search success, and those who learn to network effectively will be the ones who find it.

Networking, or what academics call "leveraging social capital," is the art of using human interaction to obtain the information and access that will lead to the achievement of one's goal. Professional and productive networking can be summarized into four major abilities or practices. The utilization of these four abilities will not only advance veterans in their professional lives, but they may well advance them in other areas, too. Here are the four practices:

1. Know yourself and know your goal.

2. Inventory your connections.

3. Know what you want from others.

4. Bring a mutually supportive posture.

Let's examine each of these in turn:

1. Know Yourself and Your Goal

The first step to effective networking is to know clearly who you are and what you seek to accomplish. The more precise you are, the more efficient and effective your networking campaign will be. One way to communicate your essence and goal to others is to create an effective elevator pitch.

For example, telling someone "I am looking for a good IT job in Chicago" is not helpful. On the other hand, telling someone "I am a creative individual who loves quantitative problem solving. I excelled at a number of technical assignments in the Navy, and now I seek to break into the cybersecurity field in the Chicago area" is an excellent example of a concise and clear goal that people can understand and act upon. In this second statement, not only is the job seeker revealing a clear goal, he's also defining his talents and background, which highlight his qualifications.

2. Take Inventory of Your Contacts

We have all heard the adage: "It is not what you know but who you know." Many cynically retort that that is the problem – they don't know anyone. But they might be surprised to find that they know more people than they realize.

When preparing for a job search, the candidate must organize all her professional and personal contacts. One can use a computer spreadsheet or a pad of paper, but the key is to record every single adult person they know. This may be hundreds of contacts or even thousands. Your former soccer coach, old military unit buddies, Aunt Bessie's bridge club members, that guy you always talk to at the dog park – it does not matter, they all go on the list. You never know how "that guy from high school" might know a key hiring decision-maker at your dream job company.

Next, you must organize these individuals by thinking through what and who they might know. Tag each one with identifiers, such as " IT industry," "lives in Chicago" or "worked at XYZ Company." Once you have completed this laborious task, you need to prioritize all the members of your list according to their relative usefulness. Some will be top priorities, and others you may never find time to contact, but you will have a comprehensive place to start.

3. Connect with People

The best way to network is face to face. The next best thing is a phone or video call. On the other hand, a simple LinkedIn connection, if not followed by personal contact, is useless.

When meeting with people, know exactly what you seek from them. For example, most job candidates are seeking introductions, information or feedback. Be clear when you reach out to people, and name drop others you have met along the way. For example: "Mary Jones at XYZ Company told me during a recent meeting that you were the most knowledgeable graphic designer in Louisville. I left the Army last year, and I am researching how to become a Web designer. I would love to meet with you to get your advice."

Do not ask for a job. Simply – and sincerely – seek to improve your knowledge and your access. Even if there is not a job opening at that time, you will have new knowledge and possibly new connections. You will also have a strategy for moving forward.

Every interaction is an opportunity to practice your networking skills. Even a job rejection is an opportunity for feedback. Instead of simply accepting the rejection, use the opportunity to find out why you were not the right candidate. Saying something like: "Thank you for letting me know I did not get the job. May I please get some candid feedback? Since I left the Air Force, I have been very focused on finding a marketing communications job, and I would like to learn who else I should meet." This request shows that you are serious about improving yourself and your connections to qualify for the positions you seek, and it also shows that you are open to criticism and can admit when you require additional assistance. There are very few employers who would not make time for such a request.

4. Understand Mutuality

Networking is a two-way street. The premise is not "what can you do for me?" but rather "what can we do for each other?" This may seem odd when there is an obvious power imbalance. After all, what can an executive vice president learn from a transitioning petty officer? You never know. It might be insight into a business problem, a connection to another job candidate or a fresh perspective on a personal matter. The important thing is to always offer to help: "You have been so helpful to me, Ms. Smith. Is there anything I can do for you now or in the future?"

Related to this sense of mutuality is the dedication to keeping your contacts informed of your progress. This is a basic and essential courtesy that works to your advantage. Most networking candidates meet with a contact, maybe send a thank-you note, and then never follow up again. Instead, keep all your contacts informed as to your progress during your search, after it concludes and even as your career develops. You don't know where your next opportunity will arise, but it will most likely come from the network you've built and maintained.

Your Task

Effective networking is not just a job-search tactic but a way of life. The best networkers never have to conduct formal job searches, because they are so well-connected and attuned to those connections that opportunities find them. This level of network connection is something all veteran job seekers should aspire to achieve.

By using the four habits of effective networking, this goal is easily an obtainable one. And once you have achieved your own goals, resolve to help your veteran brothers and sisters as they too transition to successful civilian careers.

Peter A. Gudmundsson is the president and CEO RecruitMilitary, a 16-year-old company that helps organizations excel by leveraging the talent of veterans. RecruitMilitary helps companies attract, appreciate and retain high-quality veteran employees and students. Most of Gudmundsson's career has been dedicated to leadership in media, education, information and intellectual property intensive businesses. He has run a diverse range of companies and was president of Jobs.com and Primedia Workplace Learning. Earlier in his career, Gudmundsson also served as Vice President of Corporate Development for Primedia Inc., KKR's media company, in New York. A former U.S. Marines field artillery and intelligence officer, Gudmundsson began his civilian career as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley. He is a graduate of Harvard Business School (MBA) and Brown University (B.A.).

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