Veterans are equipped with skills that make them natural networkers - which means Washington, D.C. is a great place for vets to be.
There’s a long standing joke that introductions between strangers in Washington, D.C. don't begin with “Nice to meet you,” but rather “What do you do?” This speaks to how ubiquitous networking events are in the nation’s capital, but truth be told, developing strong networking skills are important wherever you live. Thankfully, veterans are equipped with skills that make them natural networkers, among them:
1. Comfort with diversity.
In a networking environment, you will never know the sort of people with whom you might interact. Therefore, it’s imperative that anybody who is interested in making a success of a networking event keeps an open mind. Veterans are accomplished at exactly this. According to the blog Insperity.com, “Veterans are used to diversity. Most military personnel have worked overseas, or they have been exposed to working in different cultures, with unfamiliar foods, modes of dress, and standards of behavior…What’s more, the military has been diversifying its workforce since the early 20th century making veterans accustomed to working closely with those of other genders and races.”
2. EQ (or Emotional Intelligence).
Within the space of only a few minutes, a job seeker at a networking event will either make a connection with his or her conversation partner or won’t. Therefore, having a developed capacity for emotional intelligence is essential. The Cambridge Dictionary defines emotional intelligence as “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems.” This is not lost on veterans, who must be team players almost by definition – after all, the difference between being a team player and a lone wolf could also the difference between life and death.
The ability to “read” your conversation partner is an important aspect of networking. Many aspects of a veteran’s lifestyle contribute to this gut instinct – men and women who have served in the military are used to the necessity of making snap judgments without every resource at their disposal; much like the need to develop camaraderie, lives can depend on it. As a result, these sharply honed instincts can allow veterans to understand exactly the sort of approach to use with a fellow networker relatively early on in the conversation.
4. Appearance, Appearance, Appearance.
As the old adage goes, “You never get a second chance at a first impression.” To that end, it’s very unlikely that you will see a veteran looking unkempt or shabby; every previously established habit from their time in uniform leans toward neatness of appearance. As Insperity.com made clear, “Military veterans tend to be polished. They’re used to having shined shoes, a pressed uniform, and being well-groomed. In the military, every detail counts when they go through a uniform or a barracks inspection. They know how to make a professional appearance and are accustomed to following a dress code and a code of honor.” This linkage to the code of honor is significant, because a meticulous appearance might have a subconscious effect on networking acquaintances, allowing them to assume other positive qualities that you possess.
5. Most importantly: Confidence.
The transition from uniform to business professional is not an easy one. But veterans can keep their chins up knowing they have overcome far harder tasks than a mere networking event, whether it be basic training, adjusting to a tour of duty abroad, or service in wartime.
There is no getting around the fact that the “What do you do?” question is a Washington inevitability. Many aspiring job seekers have failed at networking receptions due to an uneasy answer to a probing question or an awkward interaction with a conversation partner. But veterans, who have run the gauntlet of tougher experiences in the past, can rest assured that they have what it takes to stick out in the mind of a potential employer long after an event is over.
Given the centrality of networking to the Washington experience, check out why the D.C. area is a great place for veterans to call home.
If you are a student veteran interested in transitioning from military service to the civilian professional sector, find out more about The Washington Center's Veterans Employment Trajectory (VET) Initiative.