When you are in the Forces you don’t really have to think about networking – thanks to the nature of the job. You naturally make new connections with colleagues, other ranks and different regiments as you progress through your career. So, forging new connections outside of the military can feel forced, and, at times awkward. However, the good news is that it gets easier and the old adage “practice makes perfect” really is true when it comes to networking!
There are several different mediums that you can use in order to network. While face-to-face networking is often the best and most powerful way to build professional relationships, other options such as digital networking – via LinkedIn or social media groups – can be just as effective. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic the latter is becoming more important, meaning that no matter where in the world you live, or when you want to get started all you need to do is fire up your computer in order to get started.
NETWORKING FOR A JOB ON CIVVY STREET
Networking is essential to continued success on Civvy Street. Not only does it open you up to the possibility of meeting people who will be able to help guide and assist you with your career but it can also lead to new opportunities. Your connections can help you to get a foot in the door at their firm, to introduce you to others who might be better placed to advise you, or they might even hear of a job and send it your way.
Building a good network is the foundation for a successful career. A good network can help you to grow your career by helping you to find opportunities to learn new skills, to increase your profile and visibility in your chosen sector, to find new business opportunities, to hear of events where you can connect with other like-minded individuals and to find mentors. Perhaps most crucially, it can also help you to find a job, whether you are just leaving the Armed Forces or looking to progress your civilian career.
On Civvy Street, some positions require inside knowledge to access as they aren’t published on the company page, advertised on job boards such as Indeed, Totaljobs or Monster, or even conceived yet. The number 1 way people find a new job is through referral and some sources suggest that up to 70% of all jobs are not published on publicly available job search sites. Therefore, understanding the hidden job market is critical in your job search. According to Deloitte’s Future of Work practice, tomorrow’s job seekers will increasingly need to “find others who can help them get better faster — small workgroups, organisations, and broader and more diverse social networks.”
Though it may be hard work to uncover these ‘hidden’ positions it can be worth it as the competition is low or even non-existent. That’s not to say that applying for jobs online is a complete waste of time. People do get interviews from responding to advertised job postings. But if you’re spending all of your time using only one job-search method, the chances are good that you’ll be searching for a very long time.
ONLINE VS FACE-TO-FACE NETWORKING
Traditionally the only way to network and build relationships was to meet people in person. Whether at a work event, organising to meet for a coffee, or even at a social event. Although meeting in person still remains the most effective way of building lasting relationships, digital networking is on the rise – a trend that has accelerated thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent need to connect and communicate online.
Both means of networking have their advantages and disadvantages, so it’s best to use them in tandem with one another. If you’re naturally outgoing and love interacting with people face-to-face then it may suit you to attend events and follow up with your connections online. On the flip side, if you feel uncomfortable jumping straight in, then you could start by connecting with people online, or doing your research and calling them for a chat before meeting them in person.
Whether you opt to attend in-person events or stick to networking there are several different ways that you can approach networking:
1. IN PERSON NETWORKING
Meeting in person is beneficial as you can get to know someone better than you might by reaching out to them online or being connected by a friend or colleague. Face-to-face networking allows you to get to know someone on a personal level as well as a professional one as it gives you the opportunity to show off your personality.
Here are some effective networking methods:
Attending ex-military events
Attending job fairs and networking events
Connecting with others at talks or training events
Spend time job shadowing other people
Do an internship
Meeting acquaintances for coffee or a chat
Organising your own networking events.
2. DIGITAL & VIRTUAL NETWORKING
Virtual networking is a great way to introduce yourself to others in your industry. Unrestricted by geography, the internet allows you to interact with professionals all over the world meaning that the scope to make useful contacts is endless. Digital networking is especially useful for those who wish to find out more about a company, person and subject – or where an in-person meeting isn’t necessary. However, that isn’t to say that meaningful connections cannot be made online. With options to email, video call and much more there are many ways to get to know the person you are reaching out to.
To succeed at digital networking all you really need to do is be proactive and to do your research. Social media networking sites – especially LinkedIn make it easy to network online and for professionals to find and interact with one another. If you’re looking to connect with a specific group of individuals it is likely that there is a group that you can join. If not, you can set one up and encourage others to join. If you are interested in connecting with other veterans, the Sandhurst In The City group on LinkedIn is a good place to start, as is our Vetsnet group on Facebook.
There are many ways that you can network online and virtually. Here are some suggestions to help you get started:
Establish a digital presence. Set up a LinkedIn profile and/ or other social media profiles
Connect with other professionals on LinkedIn
Use your Instagram, Facebook and Twitter profiles to connect with others
Join groups on social media to expand your network
Reach out to your regimental association and other veterans online
Check in with your connections on a regular basis
Schedule calls or video calls with old or new connections to maintain or build your relationships
Ask friends or colleagues to introduce you to people via email or social media
Attend virtual job fairs and networking events
Get in touch with supportive organisations and recruiters
However you choose to network it is important to be friendly, polite throughout. It can take hard work, dedication and a targeted approach to grow your network but your efforts will be worth it in the long run. Discover how to frame your networking activity to ensure success below.
HOW TO NETWORK
Networking is not just about collecting business cards – it involves building meaningful rapports and relationships with others. Although your networking goal will be to make connections that can help you succeed in and advance your career, it is important to remember that you also must be open to helping others too.
In order to network effectively you need to take a targeted approach. Below we’ve outlined our five-step process to help create a successful networking strategy:
Just like it’s important to plan your job-search, it’s important to formulate a plan when you network. Keep your end goal in mind and concentrate on making connections that will help you to achieve it. If you attend networking or insight events, do your homework and find out who is likely to be there or which employers will be represented and target those of most interest.
Some events or event registration platforms such as Eventbrite often publish a list of attendees. Scan the list to see whether a person or organisation you’ve been hoping to contact is attending. If so, then connect with them online ahead of the event and let them know that you’ll be there and would like to speak to them there. Spend some time researching a bit more about them so that you are prepared to speak to them on the day.
For online networking, it is worth making a list of companies you want to focus on. Reach out to employees at the firm. If any ex-military personnel work for them, ensure that you reach out to them – most veterans are willing to help out other veterans wherever they can.
When you make a new connection it is imperative that you make a good first impression. Where you can do your research on the companies and individuals you are aiming to speak to. Online networking is a great way to find out more about people and companies. LinkedIn profiles not only detail work history but they also show what people have been liking, sharing and interacting with so that you can get an insight into what sort of articles they read and what material they engage with. All this is useful when it comes to networking as you can discuss an article that you know they read, or ask their opinion on a subject relevant to their industry sector.
Be prepared to ask questions that show genuine interest in the company and their work with veterans or their Armed Forces Covenant pledges. Ask what it will take to succeed in their business. If they are ex-military, ask about their transition and seek advice.
It is also important to prepare your pitch. Think about what you want to get out of your networking efforts. Do you want to raise awareness about a new project that you are working on? Would you like to meet an industry leader who will be able to guide or mentor you through the process? Or, do you perhaps want to meet others from similar companies so that you can start building co-marketing relationships whereby you raise your company’s brand profile and attract a new audience of potential customers. Whatever it is that you want to gain from networking, prepare your speech as well. Make notes, jot down some relevant conversation starters – the latter will be easier if you know who will be at the event in advance so you can target your opening accordingly.
Finally, prepare professional business cards so that you can easily exchange your contact information with others. Giving people a physical reminder of your meeting – and, of course your contact details – will make it easier for them to recall your conversations and it will serve as a prompt for them to follow up if you don’t get there first!
Be prepared to talk about yourself, your career history, career goals and interests. It’s worth practicing what you are going to say to make sure you come across well. Write down a couple of paragraphs and repeat it until you can say it fluently without your notes. If you are networking online then send this as a brief introduction when you connect with others – remember to personalise it according to who you are speaking to and what your aim is.
Make sure you also practice how you will strike up – and sustain – a conversation with others at the event. Have a few stock opening lines up your sleeve. For example, you could ask them what brought them to the event, what their story is or what they are passionate about. If you are at an in-person event you could comment on the venue or ask whether they have been there before. Or, if the event you are attending is industry specific you could lead with something topical or newsworthy - ask them whether they have read a specific article that was recently published or whether they have heard how well a certain company is doing… Don’t feel compelled to ask stock questions if you’d prefer to crack a well-timed joke or comment on the music. Remember that networking is about showing others who you are and what makes you tick so try to act as naturally as possible.
4. USE YOUR CONNECTIONS
If you already have connections, use them! Maintaining connections is just as important as making new ones. If you need support check in with individuals that you already know – your network can encompass friends and family too, it doesn’t have to consist purely of other working professionals – and ask them whether they can help you with your employment needs.
People you already know can also be a great help at events. Ask them to introduce you to others to widen your network - this can be particularly helpful if you have your sights on someone who is more established, or a big deal in your industry. Make sure you also introduce others at an event or on social media. Not only will this help you to come across as kind, proactive and dependable but it will also help you to stand out from the crowd.
Your military network is valuable too. Make sure to use it efficiently - other veterans are often the best source of intel when it comes to finding the right job for ex-military training programmes. While your Regimental Association is often the best place to start, don’t limit yourself only to speaking to those with the same cap badge. Try joining groups on social media such as our Vetsnet Facebook group or Sandhurst In The City on LinkedIn to widen your network.
5. FOLLOW UP!
Once a connection has been made make sure you follow up – don’t let all of your hard work establishing a relationship fall by the wayside. If you promised to email them after an event, to give them feedback on a course you completed or to call them, then do it.
How you deal with your connections at this stage can make or break your working relationship, so it’s important to come across as proactive, dependable and professional in all your interactions both online and in person.
Make sure you also connect with them online via social media sites such as LinkedIn. Congratulate them on their career successes and engage with the content that they share to stay on their radar.
Lastly, thank anyone who has introduced you to someone else.
A blended approach is usually the most effective way to network. Follow up with any connection by adding them on LinkedIn or by sending them an email and keep your lines of communication open – you never know when you might need to get back in touch for advice on how to achieve that promotion or to line you up for an interview or even to help you land your next job.