College is about far more than going to class and getting the diploma, it’s about setting yourself up for success after. Networking is how student veterans can make the most of their college experience. It’s done over time and not just once a year at networking events where you put your “business face” on. More people are finding employment through networking and personal connections than anywhere else. Some desirable jobs never see a public listing, they aren’t advertised online and there isn’t a “now hiring” sign in the window. They’re filled because somebody knows somebody. In the military, it’s what you know and in the civilian world who you know matters more. Veterans are behind on networking after years of being cut off from the civilian world. College provides the perfect place to catch up but it takes hitting the ground running.
The first thing to do is to reach out to people you’ve lost touch with. Talk to people you went to high school with, you know from your community, the military, and even your family. You never get anything unless you ask for it so don’t shy away from asking people for opportunities. You’re in college, you’re supposed to be figuring your life out. The time to prepare for your future isn’t after you walk across the graduation stage, it’s far before. Talk to people you know and give them the chance to help you. If they like you or you’ve been good to them in the past they’ll point you in a good direction or keep an ear out for you. At the same time, help some people out when you can because the right people don’t forget when they’re lent a helping hand. What goes around comes around.
List out the people you already know:
- Who you served with
- Who your family is
- Who your friends are
- The people in your community
- People you went to high school or college with
- Past and current employment contacts
- People you gave you their card/information
- Social media friends and contacts
- People who the above people might able to connect you to
You’ll come across a lot of successful people on college campuses. Get to know them, who you spend time around matters and when you meet successful people, ask them for advice. Ask them what they wish they knew starting out, or what they learned along the way. Jim Rohn, one of my favorite motivational speakers, recommends that when you meet a successful person-you should buy them diner and talk to them. See what you can learn because information is valuable.
Smart people enjoy sharing wisdom and there’s lots of information to be learned on your campus. When you meet people that are doing well in your field, at least try to buy them a cup of coffee and form a connection. Professors are good for more than just lecturing, they can help you network and introduce to people. Colleges have clubs, honor societies, events, and speakers constantly. Those are excellent places to introduce yourself to people and get ahead. You aren’t just killing time in college waiting for the degree, you’re working for your future. Don’t only pigeonhole yourself into military circles in your networking, it’s a big world out there and you aren’t in the military anymore. You might feel more comfortable around veterans but putting yourself out there isn’t about being comfortable. I worked as a military recruiter, one thing that was normal was rejection. The ability to be rejected and not be deterred is probably the best thing that I got out of recruiting. You might hear no a hundred times, and get turned down over and over, but that’s what networking and success sometimes takes.
People put forward a persona at hiring events. Everyone pretends they have it all together. At my first networking expo, everyone looked so confident and put together. I felt like an imposter before I realized most of these people were more actors trying to land a role than real people. Look for ways to network authentically in your everyday life, college is the best place for that because you’re surrounded by people learning and improving themselves. Your peers in classes might look like babies, but they can help you out more than you think. Maybe the person in your business class has a parent that owns a big company or maybe someone has an inside track on a part-time job or internship. When you start looking hard for opportunities, you’ll find them.
If the military is all you’re used to, networking and job hunting feel awkward. Joining the military is a straightforward operation, I didn’t have to convince them to hire me. Student veterans can’t escape the importance of networking, it’s more than just a buzzword and we need to be better at it.
How you conduct yourself in college matters more than you think. Showing up on time, dressing the part, taking initiative, and going the extra mile will carry over into other areas in your life. Your professors will be more likely to mentor you, give you letters of recommendation, and advocate for you if you act like a serious person. Don’t forget to party at college, it isn’t supposed to be all business, all the time. But your future starts with networking and college is the best place for it.
5 Tips Before You Start
Take a few minutes to clean up your social media. You don’t need an page full of barracks party pictures or a Facebook full of you arguing with strangers in the comment section. Get on RallyPoint and LinkedIn to form online connections, make your social media work for you. Don’t let it be the reason you get turned down for something.
Get some decent clothes. When I got out, I realized all I had was my uniforms and military themed t- shirts. I didn’t own a suit and I had two ties. One was a Christmas gift from my grandmother and the other was a Batman tie. If you can’t dress the part, you won’t get the part.
Enlist allies at your school. Your college wants its students to do well after graduation, otherwise what’s the point of going? Utilize all the resources at your school, introduce yourself to guest speakers, heads of departments, and the military community there. Lots of people are willing to help student veterans if you’re willing to put yourself out there and ask for it.
Be genuine. You are who you are. Put forward the best version of yourself but don’t put forward a fake version. People appreciate authenticity more than ever in today’s world and veterans are authentic people. Don’t be too authentic, if you’re used to cursing every other word in the military it might be best to leave that there. You can speak your mind in an honest but healthy way.
Volunteer. You can meet lots of energetic and helpful in real ways through volunteering. If you don’t know where to start, your college has clubs and groups. Especially if it is something in your ideal field, they can help you forge valuable connections. There will be volunteer opportunities within local veteran organizations as well like the VFW, American Legion, and AMVETS.