3 Reasons Your Networking Efforts Aren't Working

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A job seeker networks at a job fair.
Civil Engineer Christopher Stewart shares the benefits of working for a federal agency with a job seeker at the Tennessee State University Career Fair in Nashville, Tennessee. (U.S. Army/Misty Cunningham)

Along with having a root canal, giving a public speech and listening to a baby scream on a plane flight, networking is, perhaps, not your favorite thing to do. I get it. While some people think networking is easier for extroverts (who may not be hesitant to approach and converse with strangers) than introverts, effective networking requires skills, training and strategy to see maximum value.

As you grow your post-military career, you'll learn that who you know and how they know you is crucial for success. You'll rely on your network to provide you with endorsements, referrals, insight and information that help you get ahead. Networking is a professional, mutually beneficial relationship that works if you work it correctly.

3 Reasons Your Networking Efforts Aren't Working

If you've been working on your networking skills but aren't seeing tangible benefits, consider these possible explanations.

1. You assume things will just magically happen and aren't putting in the work.

Networking doesn't just "happen" on its own. In the same way joining a gym doesn't suddenly make you lose weight or build up muscle, your networking has to be worked at to see results.

A clear strategy for the networking part of your career empowers you to find and form rewarding professional relationships. At all points in your networking efforts -- in person and online -- keep your reputation and career goals in check.

For example, be clear about your goal when inviting someone to connect online: If I receive a generic invitation to connect with someone online, I may check to see whether our work, interests or skills align, or whether there is something in our past careers that indicates a future opportunity. Without a clear reason for me to connect with them, I'm less likely to accept an invitation.

This point emphasizes the importance for the inviter to tell the invitee why the connection would be mutually beneficial. If you are transitioning from the military to a civilian career, you might seek knowledge, mentoring or advice from the person you wish to connect to. That's important to note in the invitation. Otherwise, the recipient might not see a reason to connect and worry that you're just randomly collecting connections.

2. You aren't being strategic about who to know and how you'll meet them.

List out the people you already know into categories: the men and women with whom you served; alumni from high school, college and-or graduate school; colleagues and co-workers from current and past jobs; and people you've met at events, job fairs and other gatherings. Put all these names into a database, such as Excel or Outlook, so you can refer to them.

Then, label your contacts by these categories: decision maker, information source and cheerleader.

Ask yourself: Who do I need to know? Are there leaders or influencers in your target career area that you aren't currently connected to? Should you be? Do you have enough supporters and cheerleaders who can provide guidance and reassurance during your transition? If your network is more information sources than decision makers, who are the decision makers you need to know?

If you identify someone who would be good to know and you want to add them to your network, consider how you can reach out to that person: Do you know someone who knows them? Are you connected somehow online? Do you attend the same industry events? Then create a strategy to meet that person using your current contacts.

Think strategically about the people you need to know, how they can serve you and how you'll be able to reciprocate. The quality of your network should be more important than the number of contacts.

3. You're neglecting the power of social networking (online).

Social networking increases your relationship currency and is sometimes more effective than in-person networking alone. When we are well-networked, we are seen as being more popular and in demand. While your goal may not be popularity, having a bigger network drives opportunity for referrals and endorsements, which are important to job seekers.

Social networking is still networking, though: You'll still need to form mutually beneficial and rewarding relationships where there is reciprocity and value for both people.

Connect online and then stay in touch: Even if you don't need something or they don't need something from you, let your network know how you're doing, what you're up to and what you might have to offer. Online, you might send an "update" or make a post, letting your contacts know what's new in your business or your professional life. Typically, we only hear from people when they need something (a job, advice, a place to stay). Be the person who stays in touch to let your network know the good things happening in your life, too.

While networking might not be your favorite topic, it is critical for career success. Being more strategic and intentional about who you'll meet, how they'll know you and what you/they can offer to each other is a first step to building a sustainable and rewarding network of professional contacts.

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