Your Next Mission: Make Networking Part of Your Transition From Military to Civilian Life

By 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 and filling talent vacancies, providing guidance on how to do both 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 military uniform about networking.


From Military to Civilian Life: Navigating an Unfamiliar World

Many veterans never had to go out into the world and hunt for a so-called real job prior to service. Because of this, after their transition from military to civilian life, most veterans figure that they can rely on a system of structure, expectations and clearly defined paths to success and advancement, similar to what they 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 of those perceived to have more ambition and gumption and who seem more willing to put themselves out there and connect with people dissimilar to themselves.

Be Open to New Connections

“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 in 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, the fan club has 22 people to talk to; those not wearing fan apparel have 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 people with whom they believe they have something in common. The moment that association is assumed, connections are formed and dialogue is probable.

Match your military skills with civilian careers.

Because we often group up in social settings, we tend to do so in professional ones as well. People who can break those barriers oftentimes find themselves with an audience. Have you ever seen someone float through a room and strike up a 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 that person 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 someone on a plane ride to Seattle as I was headed to a conference. I noticed she had on a school shirt from a college back east, and I asked if she was headed west to visit family. Turns 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 and 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 are what sold me. Long story short: She got a job offer from us at the end of the conference.

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Making Connections Work

The moral of the story: Find a connection to build a relationship. Even if there isn’t an immediate fellowship (such as service, hometown or hobbies), don’t 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, and we have 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. If you’re ready to start your next mission, take a look at our careers.


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