August 26, 2019

{Guest Post} Professional Networking Advice for Veterans

Professional Networking Advice for Veterans

Networking is a familiar concept to many veterans, and with good reason. Within the strict hierarchy of the military, most hires and promotions are based on merit and time served, not who you know. But things are completely different in the civilian world, where most jobs are never openly posted and 60 percent of them are filled through networking. If you’ve been applying for post-military jobs and not getting anywhere, networking could be the missing piece. But how can veterans network if they’ve never done it before? Here are seven strategies to help veterans get up to speed on networking in the civilian professional world:

Build your online presence.
Having an online presence is optional for the military, but vital for networking and job searching in the civilian world. At a minimum, you should have a filled-out LinkedIn profile that includes a summary of who you are and what you do (or what work you’re looking for), your past positions and experience and any degrees or certifications that you hold. You should also double check the privacy setting on your various social media accounts, since recruiters and hiring managers can and do vet the public profiles of potential candidates for red flags. It’s also worth Googling yourself to see what’s already available online so you can adjust accordingly.

Get your resume ready.
If you’re job searching, you’ll need to have a resumé ready for applications. Civilian resumés are much different from government ones in their length, formatting and language, so be prepared to take some time translating your experience for your post-military career. Updating your LinkedIn will give you a big head start, since much of the information required by LinkedIn can also be incorporated into a resumé. It’s also worth getting a civilian friend or even a professional career coach to review your new resumé and confirm that it will pass muster for whatever industry you’re applying to.

Research veteran-focused opportunities.
There are many organizations and events, both professional and otherwise, that cater to veterans. Do some research and ask your local contacts to see if there are any groups in your area in which you can get involved. Your local Chamber of Commerce may also host job fairs, offer career coaching or provide other resources for veterans, so they’re worth reaching out to as well. If you’ve decided to go back to school, see if the program provides a club or support group for veterans, as many of them do (more on continuing education in the next step). Don’t forget to bring business cards with you to the event so you can exchange information with new connections.

Reach out to past contacts.
You may not know it yet, but you already have a network in place and it starts with your fellow veterans. If you served with anyone who left the Armed Forces before you, reaching out to them to talk about the transition to civilian life gives you the perfect opening to get back in touch and restart that relationship. After you’re comfortable with that, you can ask them to put you in touch with other veterans you don’t know yet or reach out to them on your own. Veterans are usually happy to help other veterans, and having something in common to talk about will make the conversation flow more smoothly. And don’t neglect your other connections in the process: Past and present colleagues, friends, relatives, neighbors and classmates from your alma mater are all great people to reconnect with.

Consider taking classes.
If you don’t know what you want to do yet, continuing your education can be a great way to help make the transition to the civilian world and build your network. In fact, many civilians themselves pursue graduate work for the main purpose of growing their networks, so you’ll be in good company! If you need to continue working while you study, there are many flexible options available, including evening and weekend classes, online programs and low-residency degrees. You might also be able to get G.I. Bill and Yellow Ribbon funding for continuing education, so check to see if you qualify.

Ask for informational interviews.
Informational interviews are a great way to receive advice on your career, practice your interviewing skills and connect with someone in your desired industry. An informational interview is usually more casual than a “real” interview for a job, since you’re not actively competing for an opening. Now, if the company is hiring, your contact may pass you along to a recruiter for a formal interview, but don’t go into the informational interview with the expectation that it will lead to anything other than the discussion itself. Even though it’s informational, you should still come to the interview prepared to talk about yourself and ask questions, and it’s a good idea to bring a notebook or portfolio to jot notes in as you talk.

Don’t be afraid to follow up.
People are busy and sometimes they forget to reply to your email, so don’t take it personally if this happens to you. Instead, give it a week or two, and if you still haven’t heard back, follow up with a quick, polite note reiterating your request to connect. If you don’t hear back on the follow-up, you can assume that the other person is too busy to talk or just not interested, in which case you can focus your effort on networking with other connections. But many (if not most) of your contacts will need a nudge before they reply, so don’t be afraid to send that follow-up email after an appropriate length of time has passed.

Every veteran has to learn to network when they leave the military, so you’re anything but alone. In fact, as you start networking, you’ll probably realize that you have more connections (military and beyond) than you think. Good luck with your job search and transitioning to the civilian world!

Thank you Lee Becknell, Senior Digital Marketing Manager from Pinnacle Promotions for this very informative guest post. Look for her soon with more helpful advice. 

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