The 9 Circles of Networking Hell for Veterans (And How to Escape)

man surrounded by demons

"Let's put it this way," a senior Marine told me once. "If I fell asleep and woke up in a place I'd have to 'network' my way out, I'd know I died and went straight to hell."

"Or you were about to transition!" I exclaimed.

"That's kind of the same thing, isn't it?" he said.

I had to laugh. Even though everyone knows over-40 senior leaders must network their way into a civilian job, no one who has spent their entire career in uniform really wants to do it.

Networking is a hell that requires talking to people about things you don't know. It is about being a beginner at a venerable age with a very judgy audience. Senior military personnel hate that.

The thing I really admire about them is that they jump in and start networking anyway. As the master transition coach for's Veteran Employment Project, I can tell you it takes courage. It takes fortitude. It takes massive doses of encouraging supplies such as sugar and carbs to keep you going.

Until you fall asleep and wake up at some level of Networking Hell.

All job seekers eventually end up in Networking Hell. It is not exactly Dante's Inferno, but it is a place where you are trying to do all the right things, yet you feel like you are getting nowhere.

If you are a veteran or spouse currently looking for a job, try to identify which level of Networking Hell you might be on. Then I will tell you how to get out of that level fast.

The 9 Circles of Networking Hell for Veterans and Spouses

First Circle: Limbo

You know you should network. You intend to network, yet you haven't fired a single shot in the networking department because it is just so weird. You haven't touched your LinkedIn profile. You have not followed up on an invite to shoot someone your resume. But you will. Next week. Or next month. Or when things calm down. Yeah, maybe then.

Second Circle: Lust

You have your LinkedIn profile started, but your whole feed is a constant cycle of other people with better networks and more valuable skills getting jobs you have never heard of. You are convinced your military career prepared you for nothing in the outside world. You are found wandering a job fair muttering, "Choose your rate. Choose your fate." It frightens people.

Third Circle: Gluttony

You plunge into networking full throttle. You belong to 11 veterans service organizations. You attend networking breakfasts every week. You pop up in all the networking Zoom calls. You are suddenly a full-fledged member of the professional organization you have ignored for decades.

You fly across the country to attend a hiring fair for your service academy or university. You are gulping down as much networking as possible -- until you notice that you don't seem to be getting anywhere with this behavior and feel a little nauseous and want to get off the ride.

Fourth Circle: Greed

Hardened by cheap wine and pretzels served at networking events, you decide networking is a tool for corporate raiders. Only the strong survive. You think it is a tool designed to ask people to hire you directly. No need to beat around the bush. Tell people that you are looking for big, big money. Say this first thing. Right up-front. So people will not be confused. And they are not.

Fifth Circle: Anger

After swimming the River Transition for months, you are filled with fury that people have to network at all. You, who could not find a People magazine at a checkout line, suddenly know what a nepo baby is. You complain to all who will listen that the job-seeking process is corrupt. You cite chapter and verse on how it is all about who you know, brown-nosing, sucking up and the great unfairness of it all. People no longer want to get drinks with you. Even a milkshake is a danger.

Sixth Circle: Heresy

After drowning in anger, one day you discover an employment expert who swears networking is not necessary. Ah ha! After all, they never networked and they have a job. According to them, all you must do is use artificial intelligence, or AI, to auto-apply to thousands of jobs at once. It's a numbers game! So simple. It is a wonder you did not think of it before.

Seventh Circle: Influencers

You ignore the way normal job seekers use LinkedIn as the greatest research tool, address book, photo recall and job-listing directory. Instead, you follow all the LinkedIn influencers whose primary job is to be on LinkedIn all day, every day. You override your common sense and start reaching out to total strangers who are apparently longing to talk to middle-age job seekers.

You are cold-calling CEOs of Fortune 500 companies so you can "pick their brain." You try to slide into the direct messages (DMs) of celebrities. You think a lot about your passions, your brand, and your followers and wonder how soon you can start a GoFundMe.

Eighth Circle: Con Artist Fodder

You are in such terrible despair that when a "recruiter" reaches out to you with a message that they read your profile and want to hire you today, you believe them. When they ask you for your resume and your credit-card number and your bank account and your date of birth and your Social Security number, you send it. After all, how else will they pay you?

(Please note: It is normal for real recruiters to reach out to you for jobs in your field. They may ask you to submit a resume or invite you to a screening call. That is fine. Do watch out for scammers and fraudsters. It is not normal to be hired without an interview. It is not normal to give them all your banking and credit-card info. If it seems too good to be true, it usually is.)

Ninth Circle: Treachery and Betrayal

In this, the darkest circle of Networking Hell, the person who is betraying you is, in fact, you. Despite being instructed, implored and invited again and again to network, you do not. You stolidly tell yourself that people will respect you more if you go it alone, despite months of submitting applications and resumes and getting nothing but crickets. You do not reach out to anyone in your network. Your spouse is losing their mind. You toil on at the computer, alone and unafraid, as the months of unemployment tick by.

Terrified of Networking Yet?

Geez, all these circles of Networking Hell are terrifying. I know, because I have been on a few of them. The good thing about recognizing where you are is that you really can exit the system. You really can start over with your networking efforts, do better and get hired faster.

The best way to get up to speed is to pop on to our free online master classes. We have an upcoming class, Connect and Conquer: Employment Strategies for Female Veterans and Spouses, in July. We also have pre-recorded classes you can watch anytime, such as Networking without Awkwardness, Show Me the Money: Secret Practices of the Best-Paid Veterans and LinkedIn Power: Cranking Up Your Visibility. Sign up today and get out of Networking Hell now.

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