Myths Transitioning Veterans Believe, Part 2: Passive Networking is Effective

This is the second in a series that highlights the myths within veteran transition. As before, the incendiary nature of the title is not meant to belittle or accuse the contract instructors who conduct these classes. Rather, the language is intended to challenge the ambitious transitioning veteran to give careful thought to the veracity of his assumptions and efficacy of his efforts.

Most transition classes provide at least passing mention of the power of networking and the importance of setting up a LinkedIn profile. Few of these classes, however, effectively communicate that networking is hard and active work. There is no such thing as effective passive networking. The idea that one can just set up a LinkedIn profile and wait for jobs to appear is a common misconception.

LinkedIn is like an old-fashioned phone book. You need to be properly listed, but the fact of the listing itself is not a substitution for real face-to-face human interaction and a clear job search plan. The job seeker should give careful attention to her online brand via LinkedIn and other social media, but at the same time, she must understand that a profile alone is not networking.

As CEO of the leading veteran hiring solutions company, RecruitMilitary, I receive thousands of LinkedIn invitations each year from transitioning veterans. Of these, only a handful have reached out with reasonable, focused and actionable networking requests. Everyone else apparently thought that reaching out and connecting was the end goal in itself.

A job seeker must first be able to articulate exactly what he seeks. Then he must engage with real people to obtain the information, personal referrals and candid feedback necessary to progress closer to the objective. The job seeker needs to do this with a genuine spirit of mutual advantage to the other party too. Each face-to-face meeting or telephone conversation must convey:

This is who I am (The Introduction)

This is what I am trying to accomplish (The Goal)

This is how you can help (typically with information, referrals and/or feedback) (The Ask)

How I can help you? (The Give)

Through a vigorous and iterative sequence of meetings, phone calls and encounters, the veteran job seeker will cultivate an ever expanding network of human contacts that can provide the information and connections that will further her along to the achievement of her career goal.

Paradoxically, effective networking is aggressive but indirect in nature. One does not ask for jobs directly, but seeks to learn more about career options and help the people one encounters along the networking journey. These are called information interviews. If you are meeting with someone who is able to hire you, they will let you know if they have a job. If, like most contacts, they do not have an immediate job opening they will refer you to others and/or teach you something. The critical take-away is that the job seeker must help others help him. Most people want to help job seekers in general and veterans in particular, but they cannot read minds and they will not do your work for you.

Each networking meeting allows you to display your character, curiosity, maturity and focus. You will learn to “get your rap down.” As you continue through these meetings, and if you do your homework and listen intently, you will find yourself becoming more knowledgeable, insightful and therefore impressive. You will exude the confidence that comes from knowing who you are, what you are trying to accomplish and beginning to see how you are going to get there. “I don’t know, maybe I’d like to work with numbers or something” becomes “I learned in the Navy Supply Corps that details and process are prerequisites for overall success. I am focused on finding a midlevel analytical role in a manufacturing or services company where I can apply my mathematics and logic ability on cost accounting or operating efficiency problems.” Which applicant would you rather hire? If you didn’t have a job at your organization for a candidate, which would you go the extra mile to refer to other professionals you respect?

There is no way that you can learn to position yourself professionally without meeting and engaging with people, learning how the world works and trying on roles for size. This is networking. Like patrolling in the infantry, it is active, engaging and, if done right, more than a little unnerving.

Make no mistake; networking is hard and active work. You should break a sweat and be exhausted at the end of every day of job search. If you are not, you are frankly not working hard enough. You did not get through boot camp by hitting send buttons on online applications and expecting the world to find you.