It is not unusual for veterans to feel a little squeamish about networking and having to talk about themselves. The conventional wisdom is that while we were in the military, we never had to network because we were assigned to our bases and billets without any real input. While that is somewhat true, it does not paint the full picture: we were networking in many ways without realizing it.
When we think of networking, many of us probably think of a job fair or a crowded room full of people shaking hands and discussing their accomplishments. But networking is far more than that.
It includes conversations with family members about contacts they may have, following up on conversations started by potential employers through social media, going with a friend to a business breakfast hosted by your local chamber of commerce, or any other number of scenarios. At its core, networking is about connecting with people who may be in a position to help you, or who could benefit from your help. You may not even have an immediate goal or see a worthwhile advantage from meeting some of these other people, but you never know when that connection will come in handy. As you explore LinkedIn, for example, you will understand the power of accessing the networks of your friends and colleagues.
The truth is that you have already done plenty of networking while serving in the military. By simply submitting your “dream sheet” of your preferred duty stations, you were showing others where you wanted to work. Although this was probably a mandatory part of the process, you were still influencing those who could make a difference in your professional life. And how many of you sat down with your career planners, face to face, and explained to them where you wanted to go, what you wanted to do there, and why? When you make a personal connection with someone, you are much more likely to influence that person’s decision. As you progressed through the ranks, you certainly had opportunities to talk with those more senior to you about their recommendations for you, or any assistance they could provide within their personal circles. This is all networking and we are surrounded by it every day. The sooner you feel comfortable embracing the idea of networking, the more irons you will have in the fire.
Another aspect of networking to consider is that it is not just about connecting with people who are in a position to help you. The simple act of talking with a wide group of friends and associates about what they are doing, what worked for them, programs they are aware of, or anything else that ties into your goals is not only a form of networking but often the best source of information for you.
Unfortunately, details about the best programs or opportunities may never reach you if you don’t constantly have feelers out, simply because of the deep river of information that we swim in every day. Many of the veteran benefits, nonprofit resources, and corporate partners I have come across over the years have merely been through fortuitous conversations I had with others who had once been in my position and were sharing what they had learned. We live in a nation of people and organizations that want to support their veterans, but you have to stay motivated to ensure you connect with the right ones over time.