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Networking: The Art of Generating Champions over Leads

Everywhere you look and listen you will see and hear about the importance of networking in the employment search. There seems to be a common belief though that networking is nothing more than the pursuit of job leads. Networking is much more than just going through the movements of speaking with others and asking if they are offering or have knowledge of employment opportunities though; networking is about generating champions as opposed to just job leads.

Networking to generate champions over leads means going beyond simply asking for a job and moving a person so that much that they take a genuine interest in you, your story and your goals and want to support both your efforts and your personal and professional growth. Champions are people who will remember you tomorrow, next week, next month. Champions are people with whom you may find yourself moving beyond a one-time networking opportunity to a more long-term professional relationship. Leads simply will tell you if they have knowledge of current opportunities that are a good fit, perhaps will provide you a little advice, and then with the conclusion of the conversation, a door will many times close and not re-open. With nurturing, champions can be enduring.

I have found that there is an art to networking that requires humbleness, authenticity, and confidence. Most importantly, it requires practice. Here are some of the ways I recommend you utilize these characteristics when networking:

HUMBLENESS. It can be hard to admit ignorance. Admitting ignorance can cause feelings of vulnerability and self-doubt during a time that may already be filled with these emotions. I encourage you to take the risk of experiencing these emotions though, knowing that the potential payoff is gaining new knowledge or skills and building a relationship with your network by demonstrating that you are honest about your abilities and that you are open to learning to expand your knowledge.

AUTHENTICITY. Part of authenticity is about being true to yourself and your personal goals. Authenticity means accepting with thanks support that is a good fit for your needs and goals and declining with thanks support that is not a good fit; in doing so, you will be authentic with not only yourself but also with the other person.

CONFIDENCE. It is important to be confident in what you know and willing to give an example of how you have successfully put your knowledge to the test. Demonstrating what you know will serve as a driving factor for building additional knowledge on your foundation.

In addition to your knowledge, also be confident in your goals and plans. Know what you want and know how you plan to get there, but also allow yourself to be open to other ideas. It can be easy to get so focused on the original plan that the fact that there are multiple ways to get to the same destination is forgotten. Consider recommended alternatives. Maybe the recommendations will be a good fit, maybe they won’t, but at least give the person, and their recommendation, thoughtful consideration.

PRACTICE. Networking is a skill that must be developed and can always be improved. Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, networking still requires practice. Practice to perfect your introduction and the why behind your goals. Practice to know what questions to anticipate and how to answer them. Practice so that you know what questions to ask. Practice to work to overcome some of the jitters (though I think a few jitters can serve as motivation). Then use the practice to later reflect on what you did right and how you can improve next time.

To practice engaging in professional conversations, consider attending (and engaging while in attendance) career workshops, networking events, and job fairs. Also, be on the lookout for future events hosted by OSD to support professional development. For an example of one of these events, read OSD and Microsoft Partner to Ease Transition for Seattle Area Veterans.”

Always be in the mindset of networking for champions.

Don’t let complacency catch you. Even if you are years out from your expected (or your spouse’s expected) separation from the military, generate champions now. The biggest challenge of not starting early is all the ground you must make up with only a minimal amount of time to do it.

Special thanks to Jean South, who taught me the importance of generating champions. I had the privilege of meeting Jean through Veterati which is a free resource that connections members of the military community with mentors. I highly encourage service members, veterans, and military spouses with an interest in mentorship to visit veterati.com

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