4 Steps for Building a Post-Military Professional Network

4 Steps for Building a Post-Military Professional Network
In September, Servicemembers and military spouses past and present mingled with industry experts and others at the MOAA Military and Veteran Networking Forum at the National Air and Space Museum. (Jennifer Milbrett for MOAA)

Having a network of supporters and advisors is important throughout your professional life. Unfortunately, most military members don't focus on building a network during their time on active duty, but it is never too late - or early - to start.

Whenever you start, maintaining and nurturing a strong professional network doesn't stop when you land your first civilian job; that same and growing network will help you excel in your new position and future transitions as well. Additionally, don't forget to pay it forward. Networking is a two-way street. Always be asking yourself what you can do to help people in your network and bring in others who might benefit.

Networking is not hard. Beginning well in advance of your transition date, follow the 10-1-2-3 formula: Every day, spend 10 minutes on LinkedIn and make one new contact. Every week, conduct two informational interviews and reconnect with three people you haven't talked to in a while. This is a simple and proven system to quickly build and maintain a professional network.

Some details on the steps:

Spend 10 minutes a day on LinkedIn. LinkedIn activity, meaning more than just building your profile and making connections, is important for a few reasons. Most basically, recruiters and others are more likely to reach out to people who look like they use the platform and will respond to requests. Secondly, you build your brand and professional reputation by posting content. Follow numerous companies, groups, and influencers to ensure a robust news feed. That will give you content to like, comment on, and share, preferably with a preface that shows your expertise. When you engage in this type of activity, people in and outside of your network will begin to notice, and you will get more requests to connect.

Through daily scouring of your newsfeed and frequent use of LinkedIn's search functions, you also will become aware of other people with whom you will want to connect. Send them invitations to connect and include a note about what you have in common, why you are reaching out to them, and what you hope to accomplish by connecting. You can say something as simple as, “I'd like to follow your work.”

Make one new contact every day. Tell everyone you encounter about your transition - service providers and salespeople, former bosses and colleagues, casual acquaintances, etc. Make it a point every day to meet or reach out to one person to add them to your network, either on social media (i.e., LinkedIn) or in person. This can include people with whom you've fallen out of touch in recent years as well as people you haven't met yet. What to do with these contacts once you make them?

Schedule two informational interviews every week. When you make a connection with someone from whom you think you can learn something, ask to schedule an informational interview. (Or, for a friend or someone else you know well, just ask if you can buy them coffee.) For example, someone who has recently completed his or her own transition from the military probably can give you some good tips and lessons learned on the transition. Someone who is working in a field in which you might be interested can tell you what it is like to work in that industry and company, serve as a good source of information about trends and developments, and ultimately, might alert you to job opportunities.

Sometime during the informational interview, be sure to ask the person to connect you with two people in their network so you can further expand your network and repeat the contact-informational interview pattern with those two new contacts.

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Refresh three connections each week. LinkedIn and other social media platforms are great for giving you prompts in this area, by telling you about people's milestones. A message of congratulations and well-wishing might result in a short dialogue with that person. Likewise, when you see an article or opportunity you think might be of interest to someone in your network, send it to them. Or, just tell someone you were thinking about them and ask how they are doing.

Why is a network important? Your network serves as a rich source of professional information and advice. If you are a sincere and generous networker, people in your network will be happy to provide assistance in advancing your career, whether that be alerting you to new opportunities or giving you the benefit of their experience when you encounter a new or particularly challenging situation. 

Within your larger network, establish close relationships with a few mentors who have more experience in your new chosen field. You might want to more formally plan to connect with them regularly. With years of professional experience and more comprehensive understanding of your background, a mentor can offer new ideas and guidance and help expand your post-military network. A mentor working in your target industry can provide feedback on fit, review your résumé, role-play interviews, and give insight as to corporate/industry culture. They might agree to serve as an employment reference for you.

Additionally, the mentor can act as an accountability partner, giving you a target for completion of key activities such as drafting a résumé or making new contacts, and offer support to overcome temporary set-backs of the job hunt or uncertainty of a new work environment. (Read more about how mentors can help your career search.)

Chances are, you have been networking for many years and already have a professional network - even if you haven't used those terms or done so deliberately. Transitioning from the military is a fantastic opportunity to strategically and mindfully build, maintain, and use your network. Remember, it is just relationships and people helping one another.

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About the Author

Capt. Erin E. Stone JAGC, USN (Ret)
Capt. Erin E. Stone JAGC, USN (Ret)

Stone is a former Senior Director, Council and Chapter Affairs at MOAA.