Getting the word out: networking essentials
When it comes to networking, be bold, be thorough and be positive. The good news is that, as a member of the military community, you’re already way ahead of the game.
Start with who you know
Your friends, family and neighbors can be valuable for leads, so make sure they know you’re looking. Tell everyone you know and see on a regular basis, and don’t hesitate to bring it up more than once. Be specific with what you’re looking for and chase every lead. If you’re in the Reserve or National Guard, tell your chain of command and find your state’s employment assistance office. If you’re coming off active duty, visit your post’s Transition Assistance office often.
Put the net in networking
Spend a few hours connecting with your former co-workers and bosses on social media sites. Ask a few people to write a recommendation for your LinkedIn (linkedin.com) page. When you send out your resume, some companies will turn to LinkedIn to check out your work history. A glowing recommendation will help you land an interview. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is current and includes a professional-looking photo.
There are more ways LinkedIn can help you effectively network. You have the opportunity to join special interest groups. There are hundreds of these groups related to veterans. They include groups for specific states and cities, or for your branch of service, or for the installations where you were stationed. There are groups for organizations that exist solely to help veterans find jobs. Hiring Our Heroes, for example, has over 22,000 members. That’s 22,000 opportunities to network with that one group alone. Join a few of these veterans groups, and don’t be afraid to post messages with questions. Veterans love helping other veterans.
Using LinkedIn will not only open more doors for you, it will also let you scout potential employers. In addition, LinkedIn also has special services for job seekers. Some are premium services that require a small monthly fee, but it could end up being money well spent if it fits into your budget.
Social media sites can be another great way to get the word out. If you already have profiles on Facebook and Twitter, focus on perfecting them. You want to clean up your profiles and info, remove unseemly pictures and tailor your tweets and comments to industry-related topics as much as possible. You want potential employers to see you at your best.
Do your research
Don’t just sit back and wait for potential employers to find you. Go after them. On social media sites, follow companies you would like to work for. When you find the names of people who work at these companies, follow them as well. Reach out by “liking” their posts or replying to their status updates. Make a note of what the company and its employees are writing about and the tone of their messages. You can learn a lot about a company’s culture by not only what they say, but how they say it. This era of social media has given job seekers an unprecedented look inside. It’s often called transparency, or telling a company’s story. It’s all great information for anyone looking for jobs.
Make a short list of companies you are interested in, and take time to read through their website. Check out their competitors’ sites as well. There are industry groups you may be able to join even if you are not currently employed in that industry.
Try to turn the contacts you make online into real-life interactions. Nothing takes the place of an in-person, face-to-face meeting. Work to get as many of these meetings as you can, even if they say a position is not currently available. If that’s the case, try to get the names of more people you can talk to. Everyone has been in your position at one time or another. If you are polite and positive, you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you along.
Keep a notebook with you at all times. When you learn things in a meeting or on a phone call, write down what you discovered while it’s still fresh in your mind.
Help others, and they’ll help you
The best networkers aren’t just takers—they’re givers too. Find ways to help others, using whatever you have to offer. This instinct often comes naturally to veterans who have spent the past several years in service to others. As you’ve no doubt learned while serving, the more you give, the more likely you are to receive. All your strengths and skills can be put to work networking. It doesn’t have to be just handshaking and smiles. Networking, when done right, can be a meaningful and productive experience for all involved. The key is remembering that you’re trying to build relationships.
Be active to open more doors
Get out there and do things. Coach a sports team. Volunteer at a community organization or charity. Not only will this keep you sane during your job search, but every time you get out and meet people, you’ll be expanding your network.
Think of networking as a military skill that needs repetition—you need to develop the muscle memory. Try to do at least one thing every day that involves networking. Reconnect with a former colleague or mentor. Start a conversation with someone new. Show an interest in other people. Ask for advice. The more effort you put into building relationships, the better you’ll get.
From the business card you got at a military job fair to the name you got from that friend of a friend, the key to successful networking is hard work. That means requesting an in-person meeting when possible. Use phone calls as a backup, and use emails only when absolutely necessary.
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