One of the hardest parts about military life is the constant moving and uprooting. Sure, it’s exciting, but if you’re a professional, it can do major damage to your career.
I like to think that with the right strategy and the right set of tools, military spouses are at a serious advantage when it comes to networking. We have to continually do it in new places and with new people—so we have many opportunities to experiment and find what works best, practice, and polish ourselves. By moving a lot (to put it lightly), our well of people to meet never runs dry. And we are slowly creating a network that will (likely) span the globe.
That’s pretty exciting stuff. And the best thing is, if I can do it, you can too! It doesn’t take any special powers or magic words to meet people and create meaningful relationships with them. Here are just a few ways you can get started:
Hit the ground running
Don’t wait for things to be perfect. They never will be. If the kids don’t have the sniffles, your spouse will be on watch, or the house won’t be perfect, or you’ll be on deadline. And I’m going to say it—network without business cards if yours don’t have your new number or the correct address yet. Your face, your story, and your personality is way more important than whether or not you have a card in your hand.
Ask for introductions
When you know where you’ll be moving, ask your contacts for introductions to people at your next duty station. I’m not talking about putting your Facebook on blast (although you can do that if you’d like). I’m talking about asking—preferably in person–a few of your most trusted friends and business contacts to put you in touch with people they know in your new location.
Join Facebook groups
The great thing about Facebook? It stays the same no matter where in the world you are! Don’t underestimate it when it comes to networking. You can find Facebook groups that are for professionals in your field. Keep your eye on the ones that make sense to you and cultivate a presence in those groups. And don’t forget to use your military spouse connections! In Gear Career and the Milspo Project both have Facebook groups for career-driven milspouses and entrepreneurs. Check them out.
It probably goes without saying (but so many people don’t do this!): keep your LinkedIn updated and in tip-top shape. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur or a freelancer. Believe it or not, people have contacted me to work with them just because they found me by typing “freelance writer” into the LinkedIn search bar… and I’ve networked with countless others. LinkedIn also has a groups feature, so you can join professional organizations and chat with other like-minded individuals there, too.
Do great work
One of the best ways to network with people is simply by doing whatever it is you do well. It doesn’t matter if you’re volunteering, running Sunday School at church, or bagging groceries at the commissary. When you genuinely take pride in your work and do it well, people notice.
Ditch your fears
As someone who grew up from a dorky kid into a dorky adult, I get the fear of rejection. It stings. But the only way to put yourself out there is to actually put yourself out there. You’re awesome—don’t hide in your new home in a new town. Let other people see how awesome you are too!
Do a little bit of research about your new home and find in-the-flesh professional organizations to belong to. Many towns even have specific groups for networking. Need a little help getting started? In Gear Career and the Milspo Project both have in-person chapters in heavily military areas.
If you’ve found yourself struggling with networking, what are your questions and concerns? If you’re a networking all-star, what advice would you give others?