How to Network in the Military

Today, I want to talk about how to network in the military.  This is one of those areas that few military leaders truly understand.

Being good at your job in the military is NOT enough.  It is really just the starting point.  The real key to success in your military career is to be good at what you do AND have a strong professional network.

Networking is nothing more than building “strategic relationships” with other people.  It’s getting other folks to know you, like you and trust you.

In the Army National Guard and Army Reserves, just like every other organization in the world, there is a Good Ol’ Boy System. I’m not justifying it or saying it is right or wrong, but it is a reality.

People naturally recommend, promote, hire and take care of people they know, like and trust.  You do the same thing yourself, and so do I.  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 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.

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 career.

# 1 Build a Strong Relationship with Peers, Superiors and Subordinates in Your Unit

You need to network with everyone in your unit.  Get to know your superiors, peers, and subordinates.  Create a favorable impression with these folks by having a good attitude, helping them, and treating them with mutual respect.  Showcase what you bring to the table by being damn good at what you do.  Go above and beyond your job duties and help your peers succeed.  Make your boss shine.  Help your subordinates succeed and get promoted.  Be the MAVERICK in your unit that everyone can count on. Please keep in mind I am not telling you to be buddy-buddy with your Soldiers.  I’m just telling you to put other people’s needs ahead of your own.  As Zig Ziglar once said, “If you help enough people get what they want you will get what you want.”

networking tips for military# 2 Attend All Events

There are lots of events in the military such as dining ins, dining outs, galas, retirement parts, etc.  Make it a point to attend ALL of these events.  At the event, introduce yourself to people you don’t know.  When you see someone that you do know, say hello 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.

# 3 Join Associations

Associations are a great 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.  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 working relationships.

# 4 Meet Influential People Outside Your Unit

You want to meet key leaders and some movers and shakers outside of your unit.  You can do this by volunteering for deployments, spending some time on ADOS/ADSW, going to military schools, etc.  Whenever you go somewhere, make it a point to meet at least one person.  Once again, mingle and socialize.  Initiate the conversation and be friendly.  You never know who you are talking too.  Keep in mind that the person does not have to outrank you to be worth networking with.

# 5 Develop a System to Keep in Touch with People

This is hands down the best tip I can share with you on how to network in the military.  You need a system to keep in touch with people.  What I suggest you do is every time you meet someone new you is to get their business card.  If they don’t have a business card, get their phone number or email.  When you get home for the day, add them to your contact manager, which could be a index card, Excel Spreadsheet or address book.  Within 24 hours, send them a handwritten note(on personalized military stationary with your name and rank) telling that you enjoyed meeting them and let them know that if they ever need anything, to give you a call. In addition to sending the note, I HIGHLY suggest you keep in touch with them every 90 days by sending them an email or giving them a phone call.  This is where the magic happens.  Frequent follow up will solidify your professional relationship and it will also help you learn about new opportunities you might not otherwise know about.  How many other people are doing this?  Probably less than one in a thousand.  It’s a quick way to stand out in the crowd!

Bonus Tip

As a quick bonus tip on how to network in the military, I would recommend that you set up an account on RallyPoint and Linkedin. Both of these websites are a great way to connect with other military people, to endorse each other, to get to know each other better and to stay in touch frequently.

Final Thoughts

Everyone in the military needs to network.  This includes junior enlisted, NCOs, Officers and civilians working in the military.  By following the advice in this article, you should be well on your way.

On a side note, what are your best tips about how to network in the military?  Leave a comment below to let me know what you think.

*** This is part of a mini-series.  Read the original post.

5 thoughts on “How to Network in the Military”

  1. My husband is a much better networker than I am, though surprisingly he is an introvert just like myself. He takes the time to have lunch with each of his subordinates once a month, and his superiors also. (You never know when one might become the other.) He follows up with thank you cards when appropriate – hand written, no less (rarely emails). He meets former co-workers for social hours or dinner, and keeps in touch through facebook and email. Some people may see such behavior as self-serving, but he really cares, and people know that. He is generous with his time, and people appreciate that. I learn from him every day.

  2. You have excellent points! Unlike Candace I am not a “natural networker.” I like to do my job and get on with life. To network often feels like it’s bringing work home – or cutting into personal time (what little there is of it). Nonetheless, the importance of networking in military or civilian life is important. You never know what opportunities may arise if you stick your head in the sand. I might add one bullet point to your list: never burn a bridge. You never know when you will cross paths with these people again but it could be the difference of getting a YES or being turned down. As for other networking opportunities: I am growing fond of Google+ and Twitter.

    1. Never burning a bridge is good advice.

      I also tell people to treat others nicely, regardless of their job position.

      Another good tip is to help people out whenever possible.

  3. This was a very good post. Networking is a way of life. Just as you pointed out Chuck, the good ole boy system is alive and well in the military. It is alive and well in many other civilian areas too. Networking is a way to be a part of that system. Whether you like systems like that or not, they are not going to go away. As they say, “If you can’t beat them, join ’em.” Networking will help you grow and succeed.

  4. Candace Ginestar

    I am a natural networker, and some people I met years ago as a private/specialist, have really manifested into mutually beneficial relationships a decade later. I think that taking the time to get to know people, take care of them, and be loyal will pay dividends for you down the line. Don’t shun people, give everyone a chance – you never know who you will be able to count on later. I say a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet – and this is how I approach networking. It’s vital to our careers.

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