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Your Next Mission: Start the Conversation

Doc Massard

As a Northrop Grumman employee, I am often asked, “Doc, you work for a great company that does amazing work for veterans around the globe. It’s a huge company, but it seems so hard to get in… how’d you do it?” The truth is, I am a people-person… talkative by nature and practice and it has opened a number of doors for my career. Why listen to me? Well, I have spent the vast majority of my career assisting many people with getting hired, filling talent vacancies, and instructing both on how to do so more effectively. I have done so, primarily based around theories of human-social interactions. Right now, I want to talk to my brothers and sisters in and out of the military uniform about networking.

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Often times, a veteran has never had to go out into the world and hunt for a “real job” prior to service. Because of this, after exiting, most figure we can rely on a system of structure, expectations, and clearly defined paths to success and advancement, similar to what we found in the military. That would be a mistake. The truth is that the civilian world of business is its own unique beast entirely. It is not simply a version of a meritocracy, but one based on who you know as much as what you know. Folks with the “right” education, skills, and experience can still be overlooked for advancement opportunities in favor for those perceived to have more ambition and gumption, willing to put themselves out there and connect with those dissimilar to themselves.

“If I am new to life outside of the military, how do I get to know the right people?” Get outside of your comfort zone and talk! Let’s explore this for a moment.

Take a room full of 30 relative strangers. In this room, you have 10 different people wearing Chicago Cubs gear, two in Chicago Bulls gear, five wearing Alabama football gear, five in Auburn football gear, and the other eight are in regular street clothes. Social studies of probability indicate that the fans of Chicago teams will strike up conversations with each other and that the football fans will do likewise at the same probable rate. Though this is a pairing of basketball and baseball, as well as mortal college football rivals, there is likely to be no difference in the probability of their volunteered conversational interaction. The belief is that those in the “fan club” are likely to be more willing to initiate a conversation with each other, regardless of team or even sport, based on the unifying connection of being an apparent sports fan. Conversely, it is likely that those not wearing fan apparel have no greater propensity to interact with each other than they do to interact with the “fan club.” On the surface, “Fan Club” has 22 people to talk to; those not wearing fan apparel has eight. But in actuality, any one of those without fan apparel has a higher probability of connecting with all of the remaining 29 people in the room than any of those 22 in the “Fan Club” as they are more likely to interact with everyone, rather than just the affiliated.

Long story short, people often choose to interact with those they believe have something in common with themselves. The moment that association is assumed, connections are formed and dialogue is probable.

Match your military skills with careers

Because we often “group-up” in social settings, we tend to do so in professional ones as well. Those that can break those barriers often times find themselves with an audience. Have you ever seen someone float through a room and make conversation with almost everyone? Is it that they know each and every person? Do they have something that all of those people want or need? Are they somehow connected by family or business to them all? It’s likely that they are just “working the room” and introducing themselves to anyone they can, in hopes of making something stick. More often than not, that strategy will work. You want to know more about them because they seem to have some kind of connection to everyone. They just had to be willing to talk to people they didn’t know, and as such, they have your attention.

I met a someone on a plane ride to Seattle as I was headed to a conference. I noticed she had a school shirt on from a college back east and I asked if she was headed west to visit family. Come to find out, she was headed to the same conference that I was and was an award winning engineering student who had not yet secured a job after graduation. I talked with her and she asked plenty of questions. At the end of the flight, I gave her my card, told her to email me a copy of her resume, and come see us at the career fair later that week. She did both, and I was promoting her resume to every manager I could find. Her resume and achievements alone were stellar, but her personality, willingness and eagerness to talk about her passion is what sold me. Long story short, she got a job offer from us at the end of the conference.

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Moral of the story: find a connection to build a relationship. If there is not an immediate fellowship (like service, hometown, or hobbies), then do not ignore the fact that you met this stranger because you were at the same place at the same time. That is often a connection strong enough to start a conversation.

If you aren’t ready to go to an in-person event, you can always connect with others digitally. Northrop Grumman has a talent network on LinkedIn where you can ask questions and get answers, along with talent communities on Twitter and Facebook where you can learn about the culture of our company.

When you’re ready to go in-person, you can find me along with many of our other recruiters at one of our events or if you’re ready to start your next mission, take a look at our careers.