Today, I’d like to teach you how to network in the military. This is an important subject that most Soldiers do not understand.
Being good at your job in the military is NOT enough to make it to the top. Yes, it’s an important starting point, but you must do more than that. In addition to being good at what you do, you must “know” the right people. This is how life in the military and civilian world works, like it or not.
Relationships have a vital role in your career advancement. Your relationships can help you get promoted quicker, get the jobs you want, get the schools you want, and learn about opportunities you might not have known about before.
Networking is nothing more than building “strategic relationships” with other people. It’s getting other folks to know you, like you, and trust you.
People naturally recommend, promote, hire, and take care of people they know, like, and trust. We all have our “favorite” people that we can count on, who have helped us in the past, who are competent and reliable, that we naturally look out for.
If you really want to excel your military career, your goal is to create a “favorable” impression with as many people as you can. It’s the process of getting your name out there, so people know what you bring to the table AND they know you, like you, and trust you. This is what networking is all about.
How to Network in the Military
For the rest of this article, I want to share some of my best tips on how to network in the military. These are ideas that served me well during my military career.
# 1: Get Your Own House in Order
If you skip this step, nothing else in this article will help you. You must be a professional Soldier. You must take pride in what you do and be good at what you do. You must be the type of person you would want to work for and the type of person you want to have working for you.
This means you are professional, accountable, dependable, trustworthy, hardworking, and good at what you do. You are confident, have a good self-image, and are a team-player. You look and act the part.
I encourage you to evaluate yourself in each of these areas. Do you look like a professional Soldier? Do you talk like a professional? Do you act like a professional Soldier? If yes, great. If not, develop an action plan so you can improve.
# 2: Focus on Helping Others
It’s important to be a servant leader and team-player. Your military career can’t be about you. You want to be known as the person who places the needs of their boss, their Soldiers, and their unit above those of their own. This doesn’t mean you neglect your own needs. It just means that “most” of your focus in on serving and helping others, not yourself.
# 3: Build a Strong Relationship with Your Rater & Senior Rater
Start out by building a strong, professional relationship with your rater and senior rater. By no means should you kiss their butt. What you should do is (1) treat them with respect, (2) help them succeed, and (3) be so good at your job that you are impossible to replace.
If you are good at what you do, your boss might bring you with them to their next job when they advance. In most cases, you will also receive a promotion. I’ve seen some Soldiers follow the same boss for most of their military career. As a result, they advanced their own career quickly.
# 4: Treat Your Subordinates Like Gold
You should treat everyone with respect, including your subordinates. Remember, the Army is a team sport. No one is successful all by themselves. Your subordinates have a pivotal role in whether YOU are successful or not in your job. If your Soldiers know you care, and you act like a servant leader, they will go the extra mile and make you shine. Plus, you just never know; one of your subordinates might be your boss many years from now.
# 5: Meet Influential People Outside of Your Unit
The military (and Army) are big organizations. The organizations are much bigger than your section, company, or battalion. You need to make it a point to meet people outside of your organization. Whenever you visit another unit for a mission, make it a goal to meet someone in that unit. Build a friendship if they are one of your peers. If they are higher ranking, just introduce yourself and be professional. Make sure that people never forget who you are.
You want to get to know people outside of your unit. This means you should attend events such as galas, dining ins, dining outs, NGAUS Events, etc. You should join professional organizations, such as the Infantry Association, your DIVISION Association, and any other organization where you can meet new people, especially people of influence.
# 6: Make Good First Impressions
When you are networking with others, it’s important to make a good first impression. Make sure your breath is fresh. Make sure your uniform is squared away. Make sure you are following the proper military customs and courtesies. And be nice and professional. You never get a second chance to make a good first impression, so make it count.
# 7: Get a Business Card
One simple thing you can do to stand out is to get your own business card. That way, when you meet other military leaders, you can leave them with your business card. This gives them a good reference; in case they forget your name or forget the conversation.
# 8: Write Thank You Notes
Another simple thing you can do to network in the military is to write thank you notes. Order some custom made stationary with your name and rank on it. Get in the habit of writing 2-4 handwritten notes per week, to people you meet. This might be the best thing you can do on this comprehensive list. Why? Very few people do it.
# 9: Join Associations
Associations are a wonderful place to meet new people. Very few “non-serious” people are going to join a military association. This is one of those places that the movers and shakers normally hang out at. Join two or three associations and be active in them. Attend the meetings and events and get to know new people. Start building friendships (depending on the rank) and professional work relationships.
# 10: Attend Events
There are lots of events in the military such as dining ins, dining outs, galas, retirement parties, etc. Make it a point to attend these events. At the event, introduce yourself to people you don’t know. When you see someone that you do know, say hello, make eye contact, and shake their hand. Be sociable at these events, even if it is uncomfortable for you. When you meet someone new, get their business card or contact information from them.
# 11: Find a Mentor
If you want to expand your network in the military, it’s important to have a mentor. Find someone, ideally outside of your unit, who has achieved what you want to achieve in your military career. Learn everything you can from them and tap into their network.
# 12: Leverage Social-Media
Social media can be a powerful tool to network in the military. If you choose to be on social media, make sure your profile is updated and professional looking. When possible, avoid talking about politics or religion. Don’t post anything that will make you look unprofessional.
You can also use social media to connect with other people in the military. Just remember that everything you type or say is a permanent record online, so be smart about it.
# 13: Develop a System to Keep in Touch with People
If you want to grow your network in the military, this is one of my secret tips.
I suggest you build a database of everyone you meet and want in your network. Keep their contact information in one place, such as a ROLODEX, address manager, or Excel Spreadsheet. Find a way to stay in touch with everyone at least once every 90-days. It could be an email, a text, a phone call, a Facebook message, a handwritten note, or something else. Just say hello, send them something that might be of interest to them (such as an article or video that will benefit them) and stay on the forefront of their mind.
Bonus Tip: Never Burn a Bridge
Never burn a bridge. Never bad mouth someone publicly. If you make a mistake, apologize. Never end a working relationship on a bad note. Once again, the military is a small organization. There’s a good chance you will cross paths with that person at some point in the future.
One Final Piece of Advice
Here’s one final piece of advice I found online that you might find helpful.
Your focus of networking strategies should be – “How may I serve you?” instead of “What’s in it for me?” and you will see this simple tweak in the mindset will make all the difference. You won’t talk to people because you need something from them or you need help by using. You connect to people because you want to help them. Now, you may ask – how can I help someone who is more influential and more knowledgeable than me? Here’s the answer. Till we are alive we have to go through issues. Even after acquiring so much knowledge and influence, people face so many turbulences in their lives. No, you don’t need to poke your nose. But you can help them meet someone whom you know can help them. And boom! You did a service. Instead of trying to persuade them to do something for you, you did something for them first. And guess what, by doing this you win their hearts and they would remain your friends forever. ~ Educba.com
In conclusion, these are some of my best tips on how to network in the military. If you plan to make a career out of the military, or simply want to achieve as much as possible, I recommend you expand your network. Be intentional when networking with others. Don’t leave it to chance. Follow the advice in this article and you will be well on your way.
What are your thoughts about how to network in the military? Leave a comment below to let me know what you think. I look forward to hearing from you.