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Attention Veterans: What to Do First Before Networking Online

Question:

I attended a transition seminar and was advised to expand my network by connecting online with as many people as possible. I’ve sent out many connection invitations but have received only a few acceptances. Can you tell me what I’m doing wrong?

Answer:

While having a large network of contacts is valuable when transitioning and building your civilian career, the quality of your network is more important than the quantity. It’s important to connect with colleagues, influencers, employers, fellow service members and others, but whether others choose to be part of your network will be determined by how you connect with them.

Here are 10 important tips to remember before sending (or accepting) an invitation to connect online:

  1. Find out who you need to know – Target companies you are interested in and do research on their important decision makers. These figures include the hiring managers in the departments you want to work for. 
  2. Build a valuable network by putting value into who you connect with.  Much like number one above, always go for quality over quantity.
  3. Personalize your invitation.  Add a personal note to your introduction, letting them know who you are and why you would like to connect with them. 
  4. Don’t copy and paste the same note over and over. Make each request unique by customizing each invitation connection message. Begin by using the first name of the person you wish to connect with, and show that you’ve done your research by making references to their work history and accomplishments.    
  5. Consider your reason for sending for each invitation. Is this someone you met at a social function? Do you have mutual friends or colleagues? Have they looked at your profile? This can provide a natural way to make an introduction.   
  6. Determine if there is a chance to develop a mutually-beneficial relationship. Could this connection progress into a win/win situation? Think about what you can bring to the situation – tax advice or preparation, help with a home repair project, etc.  What are you good at that may be of use to this person? It can be something simple but be genuine in your gesture and when asking for help.
  7. Find something you have in common. Maybe you both served in the same branch of the military. Or perhaps you are looking into the company where they currently work. Use any common interest you find as a basis for connecting.
  8. Appraise your current connections. After developing an online presence, you’ll find it easy to connect with a great number of people immediately. And each time you connect with someone online, a new network of connections becomes available to you.
  9. Wear your heart on your sleeve. Don’t hesitate to be authentic with your message when reaching out. Be open about your goals and how you believe they might be able to help you reach them.  
  10. Be gracious to everyone. Always remember to thank them for connecting, even if they presently aren’t able to help you. The civilian world is a surprisingly small place, and chances are good that somewhere in the future your paths may cross. 

A final thought: If you remain discerning and strategic about who you connect with, your network will, in time, assist you in accomplishing great things.