Nathan Huret • Apr 16, 2021
It’s WHO You Know vs. WHAT You Know
You have heard it before – sometimes taking the next path on your professional journey comes about because of WHO you know as opposed to WHAT you know.
This theorem of life can prove both powerful (if correctly harnessed), while also at times frustrating – especially when perhaps you have been passed over when (at least on paper), you feel more than qualified or knowledgeable for that opportunity.
Networking and making connections is and remains paramount in our professional pursuits. Yet, like everything else it has touched, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our working habits and, of course, the jobs market – especially for transitioning military and military spouses. Once prevalent opportunities for in-person meetings and exchanges (think everything from in-person job fairs to industry association meetings) have been replaced with video calls and going fully virtual.
For jobseekers and transitioning military/spouses hoping to progress their career, the lack of in-person networking events may appear concerning. As we aim to demonstrate in this handy guide, however, it is possible to network from the comfort of your home office. In fact, the ‘new normal’ may even present exciting new professional development opportunities.
Why is networking so important?
Whether you’re launching a small business or transitioning from a military career to a role in industry, networking is vital. Here’s why:
- It could generate informal mentoring opportunities
Schmoozing with the high-flyers in your chosen industry is an excellent way to learn trade secrets. It may seem daunting to reach out to superiors, but professionals in the golden years of their careers often relish the chance to pass on knowledge to younger peers. Remember – you can’t learn everything online!
- It will boost your confidence
It’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about the prospect of networking if you’re new to the game. Practice makes perfect, however, and putting yourself out there will boost your confidence and self-esteem. Being able to assert yourself is a valuable skill that will help you succeed in interviews, presentations, industry events, and more.
- It may equip you with new ideas
Throwing ideas around in an informal setting could lead to a winning business concept. Other people are a key source of inspiration for industry trailblazers, so remember to listen carefully and engage in productive discussions. Small talk won’t get you far!
- It could spark professional alliances
Networking represents an effective way to build friendly alliances in your industry. While talent, drive, and hard work are obviously pieces of the puzzle, a hiring manager may feel more inclined to interview a familiar face. Similarly, potential clients may feel more comfortable working with someone they’ve encountered before.
Tips for networking during a global pandemic
So, the benefits of networking are clear. But how can you meet new people when in-person events are off the cards? Fortunately, building a professional network and communicating with industry gurus is still perfectly possible in pandemic times. Here are a few tips to put you on the road to your dream opportunity – especially as you look at potentially transitioning from active duty military.
- Work on your digital presence
Social media networks such as LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter are invaluable tools for building connections and selling yourself. Including all relevant information about your professional experiences, education, and transferable skills on LinkedIn will boost your chances of getting noticed by an employer.
Similarly, using platforms such as Twitter to discuss issues affecting your industry could boost your followers and visibility in no time. Just avoid getting into contentious debates or posting controversial content, as you could end up damaging your reputation and angering random people that you will likely never ever meet in person.
- Be the one to reach out
Don’t wait for others to contact you. Being proactive and friendly could impress potential employers and present new business opportunities. Feel free to drop a DM in someone’s Twitter inbox or ask someone to connect on LinkedIn. I get those fairly frequently, and I generally accept them – unless I feel like you are about to sell me a vacuum cleaner or some other annoyance.
Some people may ignore your messages. However, others may feel flattered that you want to connect with them and be more than willing to engage in discussion. People are feeling starved of human connection right now, so try to get to know people in your industry in a way that isn’t purely transactional.
- Get off the internet (at least for a few minutes)
Okay, so online channels are useful and will help you to discover scores of opportunities in today’s digitized world. However, reaching out to people using offline methods such as writing a letter or picking up the phone could help you stand out from the crowd.
- Join online networking events
Online networking events are very much the norm nowadays. While it may feel a little awkward to interact with new people over Zoom or Microsoft Teams, virtual events are much more accessible than in-person alternatives. You could join three or four events in a single day without having to cover the costs of traveling.
If you’re struggling to find events in your field, try following relevant companies and industry experts on Twitter and LinkedIn. Social media has quickly become a key resource for sharing information about events.
- Offer to help others
Offering to help others will demonstrate that you’re a trustworthy person and could generate fantastic opportunities in the future. Whether you’re skilled in content writing, web design, or recruitment, start sharing your skills with key contacts.
- Get in touch with old contacts
Wondering how an old colleague is doing during these strange times? Reach out to them via LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. While connecting with old contacts may seem counterintuitive, it could help to build your network. They may be able to point you in the direction of like-minded professionals or offer surprisingly valuable advice. If not, communicating with old peers is still an excellent way to improve your mood and laugh about that time “back in …….”.
- Expand your horizons
One of the upsides of the pandemic is that there are more opportunities to network with people all over the world. With many professionals glued to their screens, even industry experts in different time zones may be willing to offer helpful advice and resources.
- Professionalize your online presence
While you may be spending much of the pandemic in sweatpants, your online presence must be slick and polished if you want to make an impact. Is your LinkedIn headshot professionally produced?
Are your name and email address easy to find? Are your social media profiles free from embarrassing photos or jokes? If not, you should address these issues as soon as possible.
HKY4Vets Professional Connections
We know making connections and building relationships is essential for both personal and professional growth, yet to this point we have done little about it as an organization.
Expect that to change in the coming years as we work to establish and build out HKY4Vets Professional Connections (PC), a regional networking group geared towards military veterans already here in the Hickory Metro. Be on the lookout for more information on HKY4Vets PC in the future.
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