Get More Out Of Your Networking Opportunities

U.S. Army photo by Nathan Herring

Networking. The word itself makes some people smile, and others cringe. The good news is that networking is a skill. And like any skill, you might be a natural at it or you might need to work at it. Either way, it’s something that you can learn.

Networking is taking the time to create a relationship with another person. It means explaining who you are, what you do, and how you could be of service to that person or their organization, given your experience and passion.

But it doesn’t stop with you.

It also means showing curiosity about the other person. If you are genuinely interested in who the other person is and what they do, you’ll quickly become an effective networker.

We live in a time when many of us change companies much more frequently than in the past. This means relationships with people are more vital to success than ever before.

The transition out of active duty can be made easier by creating and sustaining relationships that can help you now, and in the future. No matter if you’re starting your own business post-military or just looking for a job, you can use networking as a foundation for your success. Done well, it can give you professional momentum while also giving you a more rich and rewarding personal life.

Related: How I got over my aversion to networking »

In other words, it can be the ultimate win-win. Here’s how.

1. Be a good translator.

This has been covered already, but it’s worth repeating. One of the first things you need to do is translate what you did for the military into lay terms. What did the military teach you? Things like loyalty and discipline are too abstract.

Let’s say you were a platoon leader. To someone not in the service, that doesn’t really mean anything. Here’s how you could translate that into something a company can appreciate:

I was a platoon leader for a logistics company. I had 24 people under me, and had to coordinate between the troops under my command and senior leadership. I was responsible for making sure my troops were on-task, for keeping them informed of what to do, for implementing the orders that came to me, and solving the problems that came up. This meant I had to work with online scheduling software, manage meetings to get actions accomplished, and summarize any difficulties or challenges we faced so they could be resolved. I was clear on what my responsibilities were, and when to enlist senior officers to help solve a challenge.

As you develop additional skills, you can layer in your business experience into your military experience.  

2. Know your elevator pitch.

If you could talk to someone on a professional level for only 30 seconds, what would you say?

You’d want to be interesting, but also as real as you could be. What are your strengths, what are your passions, what skills do you have (perhaps managing people or using AppointmentPlus), and how might you help them? Remember that an elevator pitch has only one objective: to open the door for another conversation.

3. Always be prepared.

It’s not just a motto for the Boy Scouts of America. If you go to a professional event, or know you’re likely to run into a potential employer, be prepared. That means keeping resumes and business cards handy.

4. Be curious.

Get to know the person you’re talking to. Who are they? What do they do? What do they love about their job? What makes them tick? How is it you might be able to help them? By being curious and helpful to another person, you do more than just clear the way for a potential job, you make a relationship, one that may last for years to come.

5. Follow up.

This is vital, and the best way to make sure that your first impression lasts. As soon as you get back to a computer, send an email to your contact. Be brief, and restate the conversation’s highlights. Remind them who you are, and offer to follow up with more information if they’d like it.

6. Keep those you meet in mind.

Rather than waiting for your new networking contact to reach out to you with a job or offer, keep an eye out for something that might help them. For instance, let’s say you meet someone who is in the field of consulting. And later that week, you come across an interesting article online about consulting. You could pass along the article to them, with an email note that said simply, “Saw this and thought it might be helpful.”

Now instead of waiting for that person to be of service to you, you’re helping him. This is the foundation of any great relationship, professional or personal.

Networking isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It requires you pay attention, be thorough and organized, and show ambition, initiative, and curiosity. With a little practice, however, anyone can become a networking pro.

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