4 Considerations for Building Your Military Transition Networking Strategy
My travel arrangements were complete. I picked out a suit and purchased new shoes for the occasion. I reviewed the list of attendees for the career conference, and I even did some cursory research so that I could ask some intelligent questions. I updated my “I love me book” with all documentation filed neatly in page protectors. I just finished my last resume review and printed two dozen copies for rapid distribution. I tweaked my LinkedIn profile after a brief conversation with my career counselor. I rehearsed the answers to some anticipated questions, and I even memorized the script for my elevator pitch. I was ready.
I still had about nine months before retirement, so I wasn’t looking for a job per se. I was giving my pound of flesh to feed the beast we call networking. The rhetoric surrounding this process had reached a fevered pitch that surpassed hyperbole and landed firmly in hysteria. For this trip, my goal was to meet with at least 20 organizations and collect as many business cards for follow-up conversations. According to the process, those conversations would lead to other connections. After enough iterations, I hoped to finally connect with the right person for the ideal job opportunity. Unfortunately, it didn't work.
The quality of your relationships is more important than the quantity or number of connections in your LinkedIn profile. Absent a sound strategy to build meaningful relationships, your efforts to do "more" networking will expend a lot of time and energy with no appreciable return on your investment. Some considerations for a better networking strategy include setting intentions based on your mission and intent, starting from a known point of reference, exercising patience, and ensuring that you have a diversified portfolio of connections to discover your best opportunity.
The First Consideration: Set Your Intentions
The most important part of reaching out begins by looking in. You could spend each day, every day striving for new connections to expand your network, but to what end? After you exceed your bandwidth to manage these connections, your vast network will provide little value. If you don’t set your intentions on what you want, the best opportunity can pass you by and you’d never know it. You have to know what you are looking for before you commit to looking for it.
One of the maxims you’ve learned as a military leader is the idea that intelligence drives maneuver, so think of networking as a form of targeting. Frame your networking strategy in terms of a collection plan complete with information requirements and objectives that inform your actions and decisions. In other words, establish what you want to gain from your network.
If the collection plan for any operation conforms to the commander’s intent, then how does your networking (targeting) process support your intent for life beyond the military?
What distinguishes intelligence from otherwise random data is that intelligence provides information of value to achieve the mission according to the commander’s intent. So, know your mission (your purpose, your WHY) and your intent for life beyond the military. Your purpose and intent inform your networking process in the same way the mission statement and commander’s intent in the military inform the targeting process. If you don’t set deliberate intentions about what you want to achieve, then you could only hope to find what you're looking for by accident.
The Second Consideration: Start from a Known Point of Reference
Here’s the good news: When it comes to building a network for career transition, you don’t have to start from scratch. As you reflect on the many faces and names from your military career, you’ll realize that you already have a well-defined network of associates, colleagues, peers, mentors, and subordinates alike. You have dozens if not hundreds of connections in your network already! These are your best advocates and interlocutors for communicating your brand, sharing your value proposition, and making powerful introductions to further expand your network.
Personal referrals and warm introductions help to expand the network that gets you hired. Think about how you respond to a referral from a trusted classmate, colleague, peer, or associate compared to the blind connection request through LinkedIn. Consider the difference between a personal introduction as opposed to the awkward exchange of business cards at some random hiring event. Existingconnections provide the means to make powerful connections.
The best way to get your foot in the door occurs when someone you know turns the doorknob
Don’t be afraid to reach out if you’ve lost touch with some of these people over the years. More often than not, they will be thrilled to hear from you and more than happy to support your journey. I’ve never been turned away from an opportunity to reconnect with someone from my past nor have I turned anyone away who has reached out to me. Use the established network you already have before expending time and energy on cold calls, blind connection requests, and crowded conferences to expand your network.
The Third Consideration: Exercise Patience
Networking is about building relationships, and that takes time. You don’t get married after the first date, and chances are you won’t get hired after the first conversation. If you want your network to deliver value, invest the time and energy into building meaningful relationships. That doesn’t happen overnight.
Step back and consider what it took for you to make a meaningful introduction or persuasive recommendation for someone else. What did it take for you to go above and beyond on someone else’s behalf? Chances are you’ve been on the receiving end of referrals or recommendations for various positions or assignments throughout your career. Think about what made a particular referral or recommendation memorable. Consider those qualities and set the conditions to achieve similar outcomes when people speak of you.
A profile of just 5 connections could prove more valuable than a profile of more than 2000 connections if those 5 people can bring you closer to the ideal job opportunity.
Trust takes time. Depending on how well you’ve managed relationships up to this point, it could take months before you develop the network that moves you closer to the ideal opportunity in life beyond the military. Pushing too hard or moving too fast comes across as manipulative or - even worse - desperate. Nurture connections, turn them into meaningful relationships, and build a trusted alliance to fight alongside you in the battle to achieve your purpose and realize your intent.
The Fourth Consideration: Diversify Your Networking Portfolio
Take inventory of the types of organizations in your networking portfolio. I’m not talking about market segments, industries, or locations. I’m talking about different business entities. We tend to gravitate toward large corporations because they make the most noise in the job market, but you might find the right opportunity in the most unsuspecting place.
My networking portfolio lacked any diversification. I had a stack of business cards for large companies and a smaller stack from people who worked in the federal government. I never considered the possibility of becoming an entrepreneur, owning a business franchise, working as a contractor, or employment in a non-profit. Much to my own demise, I limited my options because I only considered the usual suspects for post-military employment.
Include entrepreneurs, franchisees, contractors, government employees (state and local levels included), small businesses, and non-profit organizations in your networking portfolio. You might find that entrepreneurship offers the best opportunity to build something that is the fullest expression of your values, passion, and purpose. If you enjoy leadership and autonomy, you may discover your niche in operating a franchise. Contract positions can pay well and open doors to more meaningful opportunities. Government jobs may allow you to make a difference not unlike your military experience. Small businesses give you a lot of responsibility and room to grow professionally as the company grows. Finally, non-profits offer a more direct link to social impacts that may best align to your purpose. Ensure that you have a well-rounded portfolio across your network because your best opportunity might not be found on a corporate website or at the traditional hiring conference.
And Finally . . . Breathe!
Take a deep breath. Don’t give into that urge to feed the beast. Remember, you’ve been making connections and developing relationships throughout your career. Start with a clear intention for what you want. Define your mission and intent. Next, build your collection plan using current and past relationships. Accept that the process will take time and effort - it won’t happen overnight. Finally, diversify your networking portfolio to hedge your bets for finding the best opportunity that also happens to be the RIGHT opportunity.
Networking, like a targeting, is an organic process that demands vigilance. Know your outcomes. Don’t let the anxiety of the transition process force you into doing more while achieving less. To be honest, I can’t remember the names of anyone I met at these hiring conferences. I am quite certain they don’t remember my name, either. Don’t feel like you have to stand in the back of the line at the next hiring conference until you’ve built a strategy that conforms to what you really want to be when you can’t be the service member anymore.