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  • Jordan Wylie


How networking improves career prospects for military service leavers

During their time in the armed forces, most career soldiers, sailors and royal marines gradually become a good judge of character. Out of necessity, they need to know who amongst their peers is a hard worker or skilled in certain tasks. They need to know who they can rely upon to fight their corner and, above all, who they can trust to do the right thing in any situation that they may face. Through this knowledge and through shared experiences, victories and defeats, lifelong friendships are formed, intact bonds stronger than friendships - "the brotherhood".

When it comes time to leave the forces, many make contact with their close circle of military buddies to see what career opportunities are available, often in the arena of private security where their expertise is readily needed. And their is an obvious skill transfer. And yet, some former military personnel struggle to obtain steady employment, or if they do it is in a position for which they are often over-qualified or where job satisfaction is low and they cannot reach their full potential. Others create their own businesses, yet can’t seem to land the lucrative contracts they need to sustain a good healthy and positive lifestyle.

Why is this? Often, those leaving the military will be entering the jobs market with a long list of qualifications, excellent references from one of the most trusted institutions in the world and a professional work ethic with experience that can not be matched by their civilian counterparts.

Well, there is one statistic that goes a long way to explaining why. Research carried out by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology determined referrals by a party known to the jobseeker account for up to 50% of hires in the US and UK. This phenomenon appears to exist at every level of the labour market: those applying for a cleaning position at Sodexo are ten times more likely to be hired through referral than those who apply through agencies, just as those going for a management position at Deloitte are for more likely to get the job through referral by a trusted source.

This isn’t necessarily down to nepotism and it isn’t a case of “jobs for the boys”. It simply relates to a few factors: Firstly, imagine you are a human resource manager and you have been given a position to fill. Would you rather publish expensive advertisements, contract costly employment agencies and sift through hundreds of applications, or would you prefer to ask around the office to see if any of your colleagues know a person suitable for the job, for the cost of a cup of coffee and a quick chat? Secondly, why would anyone deal with an unknown quantity - essentially taking a gamble - if they have the far better option of dealing with an established character?Thirdly, if you aren’t plugged into the system, if you aren’t communicating within a network that operates within your chosen industry, then you simply won’t be aware of the opportunities out there. Especially in sectors like private security which tend to be quite contained and where word travels quickly.

To put it simply: networking works and is an invaluable tool. And to put a spin on the old adage - it’s what you know, and who you know but most importantly "who knows you?!"

Upon leaving the military and entering the corporate world you might feel as though you are stepping into an entirely new culture. I certainly did after nine and a half years of serving Queen and Country, but I found the attitude I forged and skills I had learned in the services put me in good stead. Thinking about it, is networking really so different from what was described in the opening paragraph of this post? Networking, the key to having a rewarding and prosperous career is just a case of getting to know people, building trust and mutually helping each other where possible. That’s not to say there isn’t an art to the matter. Like anything you can not go into network building half-cocked as you will not get very far, you can though arm yourself with good information and create a system suited for your exact needs that will ensure your networking efforts yield results. In order to achieve this it should be known that there is a wealth of advice and information out there for newcomers and old hats alike. For example when beginning my journey into marketing I was personally inspired by Keith Ferrazzi who, at age 32, became the youngest CMO of a Fortune 500 company. His books ‘Never Eat Alone’ and ‘Who’s Got Your Back’ outline the steps, and more importantly, the mindset he used to become one of the most well-connected men in America. He urges people to forget the stereotype of desperate corporate glad-handing usually associated with networking and instead focus on building real relationships based on warmth and understanding; in his own words, "the currency of real networking is not greed but generosity".

There is another thing in his work that caught my attention, almost as if to outline just how good at networking former forces personnel could be. Keith Ferrazzi specifically takes military strategies and applies them to networking; here are just a few of the things you can do to become what he calls a ‘Conference Commando’:

1. KNOW YOUR TARGETS: The week before a big networking event or conference, do whatever you can to obtain a guest list. Then mark out who you want to meet.

2. GATHER INTEL: Once you find out who will be there, discover what their business interests are, and maybe a bit of their human side so you can strike up a conversation.

3. STRIKE EARLY: Don’t wait for the conference to start before you contact your main targets. Give them a phone call, get talking and ask if they want to meet up during the conference.

It’s just a case of the 7 Ps all over again, and with networking you really do get out what you put back in. It can also be a lot of fun and take you places you never dreamed you would end up. For me, buying a race horse was perhaps not the best investment, unlikely to ever produce a 'direct' financial return but one of the best networking tools I've ever found. I've met many of the Royal family, high powered business leaders, diplomats and many other key influencers and gatekeepers through racing and the common love of a good day out over a few drinks.

Hopefully I have made a good case as to why networking really is worthwhile, so what can I do to help those who want to improve their lives by it? For one I can offer you a networking primer with some of the best advice I can muster, from real world experience I gained after leaving the forces. ‘Networking in the Security Industry: An A to Z Guide to Networking for Military Service Leavers’ is available from Amazon for just £2.99. It is full of tips, important concepts and is the only A to Z you will find written specifically for the military leaver.

Another thing to look out for are pre-existing networks to join, like the ‘Security and Risk Management Alumni’. These offer a quick and easy way to get to know important and interesting figures in specialised industries, and best of all you know everyone is there specifically to make friends and increase their business network. ‘The Alumni’ is a networking association that attracts academics, practitioners and risk managers from around the globe, bringing them together to share ideas, signpost and develop business relationships in a relaxed professional atmosphere. The Alumni organises networking evenings to encourage this, be they enjoyable social gatherings or spectacular events. Most recently The Alumni met to network and hear the legendary Sir Ranulph Fiennes give a fantastic speech at the Imperial War Museum!

Last but not least, keep an eye on this blog! I will be uploading more articles on my tried and tested networking methods in the coming months. So don’t wait, get out there, meet new people and build relationships. Whatever your goal, help people up the ladder and in turn I am sure they will help you, life is often reciprocal but you should never give just to receive. You might even have a lot of fun on the way. Start building a network that works for you by getting a hold of ‘Networking in the Security Industry; An A to Z Guide to Networking for Military Service Leavers’ and remember the opposite of networking is not working!

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