8 Steps to Elevating Your Career Networking Skills

(U.S. Army/Nathan Herring)

You may have read the articles, watched the webinars and listened to others talk about the importance of networking as you exited the military. If you've been thinking about the importance of forming mutually rewarding relationships to grow your career, now's the time to get started and take your efforts to the next level.

As you ready for your next career, your network will support you by:

  • Mentoring you into new career paths, fields, jobs and communities.
  • Advocating for you as you broaden your interactions with people outside of the military.
  • Informing you about trends and events in companies and industries you might wish to pursue.
  • Allowing you to brainstorm ideas or direction before you commit (for your career).
  • Introduce you to others you should know, and who should know you.

If you've got the basics down and you're comfortable meeting new people, introducing yourself with a solid and memorable elevator pitch and following up to explore a professional relationship, then these are the next steps in elevating your networking skills:

  1. Join professional or trade associations in your area and industry. These are great places to attend lectures, networking meetings and committee discussions where you'll meet like-minded professionals.
  2. If you're employed, see whether your company has an employee resource group, or ERG, that focuses on the military community -- veterans and military spouses. Here, you'll meet other veterans who may have had similar experiences to yours and with whom you can curate healthy and productive connections.
  3. Bring your genuine self to each networking interaction. Resist the temptation to be what you think the other person wants you to be and show your authenticity. This doesn't mean revealing every trauma and fear you have, but it's important to learn to become comfortable letting others get to know you and what you care about.
  4. Have a give-and-take mindset. Don't be the only one asking for help, guidance or support. Listen to what your networking contact needs and cares about, so you can offer them value in return for what they offer you.
  5. Nurture the connection. Just like any relationship, invest quality time and attention to build a solid connection. Learn and grow from what they offer you and find ways to return the favor in supporting your contact in what they're pursuing.
  6. Network with veterans and civilians. Nearly 97% of the population in the U.S. are non-military. This presents a tremendous opportunity for you to meet people with different backgrounds, careers and networks. Branch out from only hanging out with and knowing people with a military background to include civilians, too.
  7. Have a goal for your networking efforts. Before venturing out to a networking event or connecting with someone on LinkedIn, ask yourself: Why would this contact be good to add? How can they help me get where I'm going (or figure out where I want to go)? In what ways can I help them? A clear goal or purpose from the relationship will help you recognize whether it's serving you or not.
  8. Be open to networking "just because." Yes, a goal, direction and strategy are helpful, but there can also be people in your network who you just enjoy being around, who lift your spirits or who you enjoy spending time with. This is also networking, and their value to you can be more emotional and experiential, rather than tactical.

Networking is an investment of time, energy, resources and your authenticity. When done correctly, the results are more visibility, greater connections, more insight into opportunities, and greater sponsorship and advocacy with the people you care about.

The author of "Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty" (2020) and "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition" (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of multiple courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputation risk management.

A contributing writer for Military.com, Lida is a passionate supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and assist employers who seek to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.

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