Making the most of your connections

Personal connections are critical when transitioning from the military to a civilian job. And not just any job — one you want and are a great fit to fill. The good news is you’ve made a ton of connections through your military service. You just need to know how to use them.

The answer is networking.

“Eighty percent of all job offers are referral-based and made through the power of networking,” said Carla Miller, Senior Program Manager at Hiring Our Heroes.

Pete Blum, Navy/Marine veteran and military transition expert, agrees. “Finding that new career can be made simpler by having an established network, being connected to people at companies you’re interested in, and learning what is a good fit for you before you take the leap.”

Start Early

Start networking early to develop strong relationships and ensure your connections are ready to help when needed. Blum recommends beginning “at least two years before transitioning out of the military.”

An early start is particularly important when seeking senior-level civilian employment. “Many senior leaders in the military work right up to the last minute of transition,” said Blum. They “are the ones that need to start early the most. Senior positions in the civilian world are harder to get.”

Expand Your Network Online

Without even trying, you’ve developed a network of military connections, family, friends, and neighbors. Now is the time to build additional connections and nurture those you’ve already made. Experts recommend using LinkedIn for networking online.

“LinkedIn is the best business networking tool for veterans and spouses to use for finding a new career or if they start their own business,” said Blum. “No matter where you are in the world, you can network with people where you want to end up and before you get there!”

Veteran Amanda Huffman of Airman to Mom agrees. “I thought I had a great network because I met so many people while I served. But I didn’t realize the value of connecting with veterans outside of the branch I served in. I have found LinkedIn a great way to connect with veterans outside my standard network.”

Use the People You May Know feature to find contacts you’ve previously made. Send a message asking how they’ve been and sharing a brief update about you. Focus on maintaining relationships by reaching out every few weeks or so.

Start With Military Contacts

“For transitioning military, it’s great to start building connections from those you know from the military; you know they always want to help their military brothers and sisters,” said Blum. “The greatest thing here is perspective. If you talk to a veteran who has already transitioned, they understand what you’re going through and they have experience on what has worked and what has not.”

Connect With Civilians

Connecting with civilians within your industry of interest is also important. “One, so you can learn from them. Civilians do things different from the military,” Blum said. “Two, civilians can introduce you to more civilians, which means more opportunities.”

Make the most of networking with the following tips:

  • Ask for the help you need. Don’t be shy. Most people genuinely want to help others. Not sure what you need? Request advice.

  • Be authentic and interested in others. Reciprocate when you can by offering support, guidance, referrals, and references.

  • Consider the DOD SkillBridge Program. Find a few companies that interest you and connect with someone at each company. Ask questions and evaluate if the company seems a good fit. Then, determine if it’s part of the DOD SkillBridge Program. This program “is a great way to get in the door of a company,” said Blum. “Your command has to approve it, but you can get out like 60/90 days early while still getting paid by the military to intern at a civilian company.”

  • Network in person too. “Networking events like the ones Vets2Industry hosts can be an invaluable tool in meeting others outside of your niche and provide great insight into what your future could be,” said Huffman.

  • Don’t stop networking once you have a new job. Blum drew on experience to offer advice. “Where I really dug in and started helping other veterans with the transition was after a personal struggle with finding a new job due to a company layoff. The important point here being transition is not over when you get out of the military. It can happen at any time!”

  • Understand that everyone in your network has potential as a decision-maker, information resource, linker, or cheerleader. Don’t discount anyone.

“Networking plants the seed for a professional relationship,” concluded Miller of Hiring our Heroes. “Then it’s up to you to show your commitment, determination, and competence as you cultivate the relationship.”