Build Relationships

We Build Relationships ConceptMy recent posts have focused on the three competitive advantages military applicants have over their civilian peers. These are: 1) national service; 2) get-it-done leadership; and, 3) teamwork from the ground up. This week, I move into the area of building a professional network. Remember, this series of posts was originally adapted from Reid Hoffman, CEO of LinkedIn, who views career fulfillment as competitive advantages, building a network and taking intelligent risks.

Here’s more on part two of career fulfillment, building a network. Before I go into specifics, I’d like to make a general, but important recommendation. Many former service members view transitioning out as starting over. However, when starting over you don’t want to leave either your military career, skills or network behind. As you’ll see, these resources will help with your transition. If you use them to your advantage they will significantly increase your rate of success and career fulfillment.

Here is a quote I recently received from an Army Captain, “I am certainly guilty of underselling my service. One reason is that humility (in the military) is instilled from day one. The team and mission have more precedent than the individual. To many, discussing your career smacks of bragging.” Building a professional network as a civilian requires that you naturally talk about your military career during the course of conversations. This isn’t bragging. However, because military applicants are often humble and need some help with transition at this level, let’s reframe the topic.

First, let’s re-categorize by taking the “I’ out of professional network. Rather than talk about “you” directly, I would like to focus on the strengths military leaders possess in building a network compared to other groups of civilian professionals. Secondly, I think it helps to rephrase the words “professional network”. If building a network seems awkward to you, please consider this activity to be more about establishing rapport and building relationships. Once you readjust it will become more natural for you to discuss your military career. This will allow you to build relationships and if you can build relationships you will build a network.

Relationships are formed by meeting people. It is easy to identify people in the military, but how do you find people to associate with in civilian life? According to Reid Hoffman, “The best way to meet people is through the people you already know.” Once again, while you may be leaving the military, don’t leave all of the people you know in the military behind. Your initial network will come from the people you know in the military. You can also engage with new people by working with, and through, the people you already know. This makes it easier to identify groups of new and existing people in civilian life.

3 Ways to Identify People, Help Them & Build Relationships
Once you identify new people, there are a number of different ways to build relationships with them. The following three areas come naturally to military leaders and are a good place to start:

Volunteer (Helping Out)
The best relationship builders on the civilian playing field today focus on using their skills, talents and resources to help others first. Knowing this makes it more obvious that “building relationships” in civilian life and being an effective military leader have “helping others” in common. As the Army Capt. noted above the military is all about sacrificing yourself to help other people (i.e., the team) and the mission (a.k.a., the purpose of any viable organization). So, rule #1 in building a relationship will come naturally to you: find ways to help other people.

Service defines military leaders. It is a unique attribute you possess, which allows you to perform better than most of your civilian counterparts do when it comes to serving others. Consider volunteering to be another form of service and then volunteer to help on projects, in committees or with other people. It will serve you and others equally well and in the process you will build important relationships.

Most leaders in the military have learned leadership skills. You have led and been led by others. Because of this you probably value and understand the importance of mentors better than most civilians do. Therefore, another way to build a network is based upon mentorship, which maps to one of your strengths. Mentorship works both ways, you can find someone to mentor and then ask someone to mentor you. When you mentor a civilian you can teach them leadership and the importance of acting upon values. If you have the right mindset and are open to learning, you can also benefit in a number of ways from having civilians mentor you.

Education is an interest you have in common with other people in and outside of the classroom. Because of this, sharing an interest in learning is one of the most relevant ways to get to know new people. This is especially true when it comes to MBA degrees. Along with learning new skills and higher potential for earnings, building a network is a top 3 benefit of obtaining an MBA degree. Connecting students to other students, employers and alumni is a high-priority objective in most of the top MBA schools we work with and have studied. This means education is opportunity for you to build relationships which can turn into a professional network.

A Quick Primer on Networks
Networking is largely misunderstood. Many people today associate it with the size of your social network. Getting someone to friend, follow or connect with you has little to do with developing relationships and it does not necessarily define how you build a professional network. Think of networks in terms of relationships. A relationship is built upon the foundation of other people knowing you and your work.

Start Small, Size Isn’t Always Critical
When you are building relationships, don’t be intimated by the size of your network. A smaller, more focused network can be better. Place a priority on high-quality relationships over a large number of connections.

Build & Multiply
No matter how many people are built into your network, it will always multiply. In fact, when you build relationships and a network you are bound to see multiplier effects happen. For instance, 200 people extends to more than 2 million people on LinkedIn. The last few hundred registrations we’ve tracked at Military MBA have extended to 9,000 other professionals. This works across all levels with all people. If you are just getting started and only have 3 relationships build in your network that’s okay. Soon enough the power of multipliers and the network will kick in turning the 3 people you know into hundreds through an extended network. The key is to know people through personal or professional relationships and, as much as possible, build your network based upon helping other people.

Next week, I’ll cover the last topic to help you be an effective applicant in your transition out of the military. As always, if you see value in this post, please forward and tell all of your buddies about this blog.

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