The first rule of networking I teach any transitioning military member, veteran or spouse is this: You can get any job you want as long as your network can support it. That is why I am always checking in with my coaching clients about their networking efforts. People need a lot of encouragement to do such a powerful, but unfamiliar, activity.
Last week, I had a transitioning E-7 who pushed back when I asked about networking. "Well, I do know this one guy," he admitted, as if I was asking him to crash the Last Supper and join the Judas Club. "But I don't like to ask anyone for anything. I won't sell myself."
"Good," I told him. "Excellent. Absolutely perfect way to be. Because when it comes to networking for military members, the next two rules are 2) Don't ask, and 3) Don't sell."
"Are these new rules?" he asked, puzzled. What networking rules was he playing by? Did he think networking was a synonym for demanding, begging and groveling? Did his version of networking involve attending networking events and cold-calling strangers?
If so, the rules have changed. As Military.com's transition master coach, I've helped almost 16,000 members of our community learn the skills they need to find their next job. I know the rules of networking and pulled them all together for him. I am now passing them on to you.
1. You Can Get Any Job You Want -- as Long as Your Network Can Support It
During military transition, networking is not a "nice to do" function. It is a "must do." This is especially true when you are leaving the defense and government sectors and looking for jobs with employers that do not traditionally hire military veterans. It is even more true if you are looking for a high-income job.
Instead of hoping someone will see you, see them first. LinkedIn is the easy button here for finding past work friends who could be employed in your industry of choice. Watch our free Stealth LinkedIn master class, and I will demo the process for you step by step. They never need to know you looked.
2. Don't Ask
Don't come right out and ask anyone for a job. The words, "Do you have a job for me?" should never pass your lips. Nothing could be more awkward or embarrassing. This is true not only for you; it is also awkward and embarrassing for the person you are asking. Very few people are hiring for a specific job at any given time, no matter how much they like you.
Instead, resolve to make different asks. Ask for a quick call. Ask them to tell you about their transition. Ask to get together at a coffee shop or a beer garden. Ask a specific question about a role in their company. Ask who else you should talk to. These asks are always OK.
3. Don't Sell
Never think of these conversations as "selling yourself." Maybe that is a concept civilians all excel at, but I've never seen a military person do that well. Heavens, I have never actually seen a civilian sell themselves well, either.
Instead of thinking of it as selling yourself, you want to prepare yourself for a network connection. You want to tell them what kind of job you are looking for, including the geographic location, the industry and maybe a particular role. You want to list in advance two areas of expertise you have that may apply to their company. This preparation is the respect you pay the person you are meeting.
4. Don't Think You Don't Know Anyone
Often, people hear the first rule of networking and think they are supposed to be the blood relative of a hiring manager, the president of a company or a Kardashian. Thus, they don't know anyone.
Instead, realize that no one serves in the military without meeting people. These are the normal people you have worked with, lived near or sat next to during interminable wrestling matches or band competitions or afternoons waiting for the speech therapist. Add to this networking group all the military recruiting teams, transition professionals and volunteer mentors who are ready to help you every day. This is the network that helps the majority of Americans find their jobs.
5. Don't Meet with Anyone Before Reading Their LinkedIn Profile
This is one of the new rules of networking. I always follow it, whether I am meeting with a potential new client, the subject of an interview or a sponsor.
Know that as a job seeker, you are expected to read the profile of anyone you are meeting with -- even if you have known them for years. People expect that you know their current job title, their company and basically what they do, because the information is so easily available.
6. Don't Put Off Networking Until You Are Not Busy
Networking is often such an indirect activity that it is easy to put it off until you are not busy. You will always be busy.
Instead, put a networking hour on your calendar every week. Send an email. Dash off a quick message of congratulations. Post a comment on someone's profile. Connect with me on LinkedIn. You can always be doing a little bit of work for your connections.
7. Don't Take Silence as a Judgment on Your Worth
Getting back in touch with people when you are job hunting is always kind of tricky, and not for the reasons you think. People often reach out to a past work friend or mentor on LinkedIn and get silence in return. They conclude they are bothering people.
Instead, realize that silence is a completely neutral response. Don't read anything into it. Instead, realize that it is most likely that the person does not check in on LinkedIn regularly and does not have alerts set up. Try another way to contact them. If they still do not reply, take this as a message that they are busy right now and move forward.
8. Don't Think You Can Just Apply to Jobs Online
Applying online is an inevitable part of the process of job hunting, but it is not enough. The volume of applicants is just too great for any one candidate to stand out. And many jobs are never listed online at all.
Instead, accept that networking is an essential part of landing a high-paying job. Set a goal for yourself that you are going to practice networking until you are competent and comfortable.
For senior military, the best source of job information might just come from someone who used to work for you. You might even be working for them. But if you yelled at them, belittled them, ranked them last, keyed their car or ate their lunch while they were watching, don't bother to reach out to them. Just move on.
10. Don't Dismiss Your Spouse's Network
I always ask my coaching clients about their spouses. I want to hear what the spouse thinks the service member should do next. I want to know whether the spouse is already working and settled in their forever house. I want to know what the spouse's network is like. Service members are amazed when the source of their job comes directly from the spouse's work or social network. It happens all the time.
11. Don't Think There Is No Local Peer Network for You
Joining a peer network is one of the tips experts suggest when looking for a job. Just because you don't know of one right now does not mean that the peer network of veterans like you does not exist. Often, you are not invited until after you get out of the service.
Instead of dismissing the concept, you can start reaching out by joining a veterans network on LinkedIn. Listen for an invitation to breakfasts or conferences and say yes now.
12. Don't Put Off Networking Until You Feel Like It
Just like you will never stop being busy, you will also never feel like networking. Trust me.
Instead of procrastinating again today, set a timer for five minutes and blast through a networking task. You will feel so much better afterward.
13. Don't Stop Being Great at What You Do
While you can always find new rules of networking, you still need to be great at what you do. Your professional reputation from the military is what makes people want to work with you again in the civilian world. Networking helps you build a bridge from your military self to your civilian self. Let other people help you now, just like you will help other service members when they leave the military.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at [email protected].
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Transitioning military, veterans and spouses may be qualified for the job, but they are missing the secrets of civilian hiring. Find out everything you need to know with our FREE master class series, including our next class. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.