How and When to Begin Networking for Your Post-Military Career

(U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Sara Jenkins)

Question: I have 24 months until I separate from the Navy. When should I start to focus on networking, so I'll have a job lined up after the military?

Answer: I appreciate the question, but it's sort of like asking, "Do I need to worry about my diet if I don't have any ailments?" Being proactive about networking is a good practice before you find your first post-military job and throughout your career.

Here's why networking is valuable:

  • Your network will provide you with introductions, information, insights and connections to opportunities. Wherever you are in your career, you need a vibrant and well-rounded network of contacts.
  • Your network is involved in companies and conversations you aren't part of. They're always listening for how they can help you.
  • When your network is clear about who you are and what you need, they can advocate for you and introduce you to situations.
  • Yes, your network will expect reciprocity for their help, but not in the same way. If someone in your network helps you find a job, for example, and they're gainfully employed, then they don't expect you'll help them find work. But they will expect that you reciprocate with gratitude and help where they need it.

When to Start Networking

At various stages of your separation from the military, you'll network differently. For example:

Between 24-36 months before separation:

  • Begin building your online profile on LinkedIn. If you're not familiar with how the platform works, watch some LinkedIn Learning courses or ask a friend who's more knowledgeable. You won't be spending a ton of time here, but having a profile that you manage, posting with some regularity and connecting with others starts your online network.
  • Begin focusing on personal branding to unpack how you want to be known and what you offer. Your brand is how you'll act, communicate and the relationships you'll hold, including your networking contacts. Be specific and strategic about how you'd like to be perceived -- online and in person.
  • Look around you at the people you serve with; who's likely to be someone you'll want to keep in touch with after your military duty? Make sure you know how to contact them, what they'll be pursuing and how you can help them. They'll become a part of your network going forward.

Between 12-23 months before separation:

  • Connect online with people you'll meet in the Transition Assistance Program -- the instructors, fellow service members or allies to the military community. Find them on LinkedIn and personalize the invitation to connect to remind them where you both met.
  • On social media (LinkedIn and other platforms you're active on), begin to post about your goals post-military duty. Will you be relocating back home? Will you be looking for work, attending school or starting a business? Connect with others who can inform or support you as you move in that direction.
  • Begin to seek a mentor who can be part of your network. This person will guide you and offer support differently than just anyone in your network. Seek out someone with the skills, experience or career path you want to learn more about. Then ask them whether they'll guide you and, in return, keep them updated on your progress and offer any introductions or support they need.

Between 0-11 months before separation:

  • Now your networking is in full swing: You'll focus on networking every day until you transition, and then depending on where you land (job, school, self-employment), your networking might reshape a bit.
  • Begin to seek out contacts who can help you align your skills and experiences with your post-military career goals. Who can connect you to the right people at the right companies for the right opportunities? Consider tracking your networking efforts so you'll always be sharp and engaged in the conversations and will follow up accordingly.
  • Consider ending every networking conversation with a request: Who do you know that I should also talk to? This will grow your network quickly!
  • Ensure your LinkedIn profile and resume are updated, complete and are good reflections of who you are, what you've done and what you're looking for. This is the easiest way your networking contacts have to refer you to ideal opportunities.

You'll continue to invest time and resources into developing your network long after you leave the military. As your civilian career grows, evolves and even after you retire, your network relationships may morph, too. But the people who are part of your network will keep you relevant and top of mind with the people who matter most to you (professionally).

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