The good news is that things are opening up for meetings, work, and in-person events. The bad news is that over the past couple of years, many people have relied on online networks to find work, build relationships, and stay connected.
Whether you’re about to leave the military, have worked in the civilian sector, or have recently separated, networking is an important part of growing your career. To get the most out of face-to-face business relationships, consider these tips:
1. Be authentic.
Wherever you meet someone new – regardless of background or circumstance – introduce yourself authentically. It means that what you say and offer is genuine and real. You’re allowed to keep things private, so resist the urge to share too much, especially at first.
2. Refine your narrative.
Do you have an elevator pitch that works? When introducing yourself to someone new, remember to say 1. What you do; 2. Why are you doing this job (and what makes you interesting); and 3. Share a short story or example to paint a picture of what you do and what you are looking for.
3. Know your target audience.
The goal is not to meet everyone. It’s about meeting and building professional relationships with the people who can help you – by sharing ideas with you, mentoring or supporting you, or hiring you. Know who these people are and what interests them before you jump into a networking relationship.
4. Do your homework ahead of time.
Before you go to a job fair, open house, industry meeting or networking event, find out who will be there. Are there people you have already had conversations with? What do you know about them and what interests them? Are you going to meet new people, and what can you learn about them ahead of time that will help foster good conversation? LinkedIn is a great resource for this assignment.
5. Think about where to show up.
If you’re looking for a job, you might think all the job fairs, open houses, and military recruiting events are a must. Sometimes, however, less is more. While many of these events are free to attend, you’ll still need to pay for parking, gas for your car, dry cleaning of your suit, and printing of your resume, among other expenses. Focus on events where your target audience will be and where you’ll have the best chance of having meaningful conversations with the people you’re looking to meet.
6. Keep an open mind.
Just because someone (on the surface) doesn’t seem to be helpful to your network, stay open to the possibilities. Maybe they have a large network, have a lot of influence in their community, or can help you in ways you haven’t yet identified.
7. Expand your network.
You’re never done growing your network of people you need to know. Always nurture and retain contacts that you know, who know you and appreciate what you can offer.
8. Purge your network.
Sometimes it’s healthy to let people go from your network. If their actions conflict with your value, if they take more than they give, or if their value to you has changed, it may be time to say goodbye.
9. Become a resource.
Look for ways to help the people you are connected with. Sometimes the best networking relationships start with a referral to a colleague or helping someone with something outside of your core expertise. Be the helper.
10. Ask for help.
Also, be the person asking for help. No one in your network is a mind reader; tell them and show them how they can help you with what you need. They will appreciate your candor, provided the relationship has established a level of mutual trust.
11. Share your value.
Let others know what you can offer and how they can spread the word for you. If your work is in a different field than your contact, they may need you to explain your value proposition to them in a way they can understand.
12. Focus on eye contact.
When talking to someone in person, look them in the eye. Resist the urge to look away, at your watch or cell phone: this sends the message that you are not interested or distracted. Good eye contact tells the person that you are focused.
13. Face the person.
A good body language tip is to point your belly button at the person you’re talking to. It causes you to pay more attention, be more present in conversation, and communicate respect.
14. Ask about them.
Remember to be “other-oriented” when networking in person. Everyone likes to talk about themselves, so have some good questions ready to ask to show them you care.
15. Go online later.
After meeting in person, connect online to continue the conversation. Sending a LinkedIn invite to connect and reminding the person where you met and what you talked about is a great way to show you cared and want to stay connected.
Take advantage of building in-person networking relationships to add to your career today and grow your career in the future.
The author of “Success After Service: How to Take Control of Your Job Search and Career After Military Duty” (2020) and “Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition” (2014), Lida Citroën is a keynote speaker and presenter, executive coach, popular TEDx speaker and instructor of several courses on LinkedIn Learning. She regularly presents workshops on personal branding, executive presence, leadership communication and reputational risk management.
A writer for Military.com, Lida is an avid supporter of the military, volunteering her time to help veterans transition to civilian careers and help employers looking to hire military talent. She regularly speaks at conferences, corporate meetings and events focused on military transition.
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