You’ve probably heard this a 1,000 times as a transitioning Military Veteran: “Make sure you network!” But that provides little substance for individuals to act on, aside from attending events geared toward making new connections.

Networking is considered the life blood for meeting peers, industry professionals, recruiters, initiating conversations and relationships, and hopefully it will lead to opportunities like a new job/career if that’s what you’re after.

More often than not however, it leads to a very generic process:

  • Professional attire – check
  • Resumes/Business cards – check
  • Elevator speech – check
  • Firm handshake – check

The ensuing hours spent preparing, attending, and ‘networking’ may bear little fruit for several reasons:

  1. You’re one of many with the same goals
  2. You did little to prepare aside from looking the part
  3. You didn’t go in with a game plan
  4. You didn’t follow-up

Here’s what you can do to maximize your time and results.

First, look at things from the perspective of company/organizational representatives and ask yourself, how can I stand out from the many? You’re one fish in a very large pond and recruiters, hiring managers, and business partners deal with hundreds of qualified applicants at networking events. This is where you, the squared away Military Veteran, can leave your mark.

Invest your time in preparing for success just like you would in the military – focus on the impending mission. Networking events do not reward the passive. Simply handing out resumes and business cards after a short introduction is not likely to earn you an opportunity. The goal should be to establish meaningful connections and maintain them over time. We’ll talk more about that in a second.

Along with preparation, you need to focus on a plan of attack. Conduct some recon before the big event. Look for more information related to:

  • Which companies/organizations will be represented?
  • What’s the ultimate goal of the event?
  • Will hiring managers be present?

This leads into your goals for attending the event:

  • Are there specific companies/organizations you want to focus on?
  • What are you desired outcomes?
  • Are you prepared for on the spot interviews?

(This is not an exhaustive list of questions, think outside the box)

Finally, after establishing connections, you want follow-up as soon as possible. Send an email to your new contact thanking them for their time and outlining why you enjoyed meeting them. Additionally, inquire as to whether they are on LinkedIn and if they’re willing to connect online. This is a fantastic way to ensure you can easily communicate in the future, remain active in the networking process, and send a quick message now and again wishing them well.

You’ve already taken the important steps of investing time and resources into attending networking events – these points will allow you to focus on maximizing your return!

  1. Stand out from the many
  2. Prepare ahead of time
  3. Establish a game plan
  4. Follow-up

*Tip: Warm up at networking events by approaching individuals/organizations you may not actually be interested in (that isn’t to say, don’t make the most of every conversation). First contact is often most challenging, so get comfortable, shake off any nerves, and then focus on your goals.