When it comes to the art of networking, the fact of the matter is that none of us have an inherent advantage over anybody else. Humans do not come from the womb imbued with the “Great Networker” gene. Networking is, in fact, a learned skill that (like all skills) becomes easier and more natural the more it is practiced. By definition, networking is the exchange of information or services between individuals, groups, or institutions. Specifically, networking is the “cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.” Typically, these connections are created and enhanced through conversation, be it face-to-face, email, phone, or video chat. The importance of becoming an effective networker cannot be overstated during an individual’s military-to-civilian transition. Beginning as early as possible is vital in order to reduce one’s overall level of stress, while increasing the likelihood of a streamlined transition to the civilian workforce.
How important is it to start networking as early as possible? For the sake of comparison, let’s look at three different people, with equivalent qualifications, who plan to leave the military over a three year span of time: Don starts the networking process at the three-year mark, Dave begins at the two-year mark, and Steve starts one year out. Don's advantage in experiencing an efficient, less-stress transition is exponentially better than that of either Dave or Steve. In fact, no matter how hard Dave or Steve try, they will never catch up to Don, mainly due to the fact that human relationships require time and effort to create and sustain. Does this mean Dave and Steve will not have a successful transition? Absolutely not! It just means that Don has elected to use the power of time (think “compound interest”) to his advantage in order to find the job he wants, in the location that he wants, and for the pay that he wants, whereas Dave and Steve’s chances to land their dream jobs are effectively diminished due to the fact that they have opted to allow time to work against them. Don's has created a cumulative advantage.
The Principle of Cumulative Advantage states that once a person gains a small advantage over another person (or persons), that advantage will compound over time into an increasingly more substantial advantage. This well-known effect is embodied in the catchphrase, “the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer."
Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book The Outliers states:
"Achievement is talent plus preparation. The problem with this view is that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play."
For example, if networking is the art of getting out there and talking to people, then presumably people who are extraverts should have an advantage over introverts. Well, I definitely consider myself to be an introvert, but many would say that I am a fairly successful networker. My networking efforts are effective because I consistently put in the work required to capitalize on opportunities when they present themselves. For example, if I’m attending an event, I research the people and/or companies that will be in attendance. That way I am mentally prepared to listen, speak, and connect if and when the opportunity arises. Also, prior to the event, I have put focused thought into how I want to present myself, what my long-term goals are, and what I have to offer in my professional relationships. Then, I practice what I am going to say.
Simply put, the importance of practice cannot be overstated. In The Outliers Gladwell states that "Practice isn't the thing you do once you're good. It's the thing you do that makes you good." As I mentioned earlier, none of us is born a great networker. To become a good networker requires persistence, discipline, and focused effort. Gladwell goes on to say, "The thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. And what's more, the people at the very top don't work just harder or much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder." To me, the term “Practice, Practice, Practice” comes to mind. As Alcurtis Turner said, “The more you practice, the better you'll be. The harder you train, the great in you they'll see.”
Without a doubt, effective networking significantly increase your chances of experiencing a successful, less-stress transition. To become a great networker, it is imperative that you begin your efforts as early as possible, and practice the art of networking whenever the opportunity arises. In my opinion, attending events like HeliSUCCESS and Heli-EXPO are two great places to start.