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Socialiazing for Advancement: Networking Your Way to a Post-Military Career

by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by: Vinnell Arabia

During the last decade, the Internet has revolutionized practically many aspects of our lives, including job hunting. No longer is it necessary to leaf through newspaper classifieds to find openings - simply fire up your computer and there they are. This allows employers to broaden their searches for skilled talent and job seekers to access as many or as few listings as they desire.

The latest revolution sweeping across cyberspace is social networking. If you are not using at least one networking site - such as Facebook or MySpace - you run the risk of being labeled by your friends as out-of-touch. Not only that, argues career coach Malcolm O. Munro of Germantown, Md., but without an Internet presence, job seekers are limiting their chances of landing the position they want.

Munro, author of Marketing Yourself for Your Dream Job: How to Get the Job and Career You've Always Wanted, believes that in the very near future, the roles of the employer and the job seekers will be somewhat reversed. "People will be marketing themselves as thought leaders and companies will come after them," he said. To establish yourself as a thought leader, you must be an expert and this is where the Internet and social networking come into play.

Proper Internet utilization requires job seekers to have a number of components in place. These include a Web site that outlines their expertise, profiles on social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook, a blog covering their professional field, and a Twitter account.

"You have to do social networking," Munro underlined. "If you don't, you're going to be behind the curve. Decide on the area that you want to be recognized as a thought leader in, and begin to position yourself as such." If you are not already an expert in your chosen field, he says, read up and become one.

LinkedIn is currently the professional's social network of choice, and Facebook's more informal model enables people to connect with new acquaintances and reconnect with those who may serve as contacts down the road. The danger with Facebook is that its emphasis on the 'social' aspect of social networking can lead to the posting of too much information. Although controversial, many employers use these sights to gather information about potential employees so it is important for job seekers to monitor their sites frequently and remove any unflattering photos or comments.

Although the online version of networking is appealing, especially for the more timid among us, job seekers must also get out into the real world if they want to advance their search. Professional networking events are one way to make contact with those who are in a position to be of assistance, but do not discount the value of less formal events and venues such as connections at the grocery store, your child's soccer game or your neighbor's barbecue.

"What's great about a social situation is that it lets people to get to know you," said Diane Darling, CEO and founder of Effective Networking in Boston, Mass., and author of The Networking Survival Guide: Get the Success You Want by Tapping Into the People You Know (McGraw-Hill). "The reality is, they're hiring you - they're not hiring a resume, and they're not hiring a degree. In a social situation, they get to see who you are."

The difference between networking at a professional event versus more relaxed situations is that your pitch cannot be as direct. Before selling yourself and your expertise, you need to establish some rapport. "Get to know people," Munro urges. The best way to start a conversation is to ask people to tell you about themselves. What do they do? What kinds of challenges are they facing? "Then, you can offer up your expertise. The more you reach out and offer yourself for assistance, the more people are likely to say, 'You seem to know a lot about this. Are you looking for work?'" Be a good listener and people will reciprocate by listening to you.

One aspect of networking that is often overlooked is follow-up. "That's the thing that people drop all of the time," Darling observed. "If you have this great conversation at your neighbor's barbecue, or you run into someone and have a great chat over a beer at the pub, you've got to follow up, and you need to take the initiative." There is a tendency to become shy. People worry that they will be bothering the other person if they follow up. "The reality is, you're bothering them if you're making them do work to follow up with you."

While it is true that the more contacts you make, the better your chances are of finding that perfect job, networking - social or otherwise - should not be a numbers game. A good networker is someone who takes the time to build rapport, even if it is not evident howthat person may be of help in the near future. Or, in Darling's words, "Networking is building relationships before you need them."

 

Carolyn Heinze (carolynheinze.blogspot.com) is a freelance writer/editor.

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