RAF Alconbury, England --
Do you remember Corporal Radar O’Reily from M*A*S*H? He went from being “wet-behind-the-ears” to a connected networker who kept his unit supplied. Or Max Klinger who took over Radar’s clerk position and not only kept the unit in medical supplies but was also able to have his beloved Tony Paco’s Hungarian Hotdogs (Kolbasz) delivered to the remote medical operation. It was through a network of contacts that they both were able to accomplish these feats. Ordering supplies is much easier today with the internet and improved supply chain management. However, the ability to develop a network is just as important today as it was during the Korean War.
A network can help you solve problems, provide perspective, teach you new things, support your efforts, inform you of new opportunities, celebrate your success, give you feedback, and help you relieve stress. As an Air Force spouse, I have moved ten times to new locations across the globe while remaining gainfully employed along the way. This would not have been possible without the support and assistance of the people I met, worked with and stayed in contact with at each assignment. In fact, it was someone in my network who clued me into the position I currently hold at RAF Croughton.
Your network should include a diverse group with a variety of connections and skill sets. These should include peers, social contacts, as well as people with technical knowhow, those with different perspectives, greater organizational awareness, and differing backgrounds. There are a host of formal and informal ways to go about building your network. Formal opportunities include joining professional associations, attending meetings and events, being a sponsor, working on teams and cross functional projects, attending classes or conferences, as well as volunteering to support all these activities. Informal means include recreational sports, volunteering for charitable projects, or simply getting to know your fellow Airmen during lunch, a coffee, and social gatherings.
It is also important to your network that you share your experience, what you know, and the resources you are aware of. Always look for opportunities to contribute to those in your network. You see, a strong network involves reciprocity and investing in it will provide you with connections that will pay off exponentially when you need resources outside your own wheelhouse.
Finally, in today’s modern age a discussion about networking would not be complete without a few words about online networking. Sites like LinkedIn, association websites, professional/technical chat rooms and many other groups and forums exist solely for connecting people to resources. It’s imperative though that you’re selective in the way you use these sources. Be professional and use standard business etiquette at all times. Always remember that you are searchable and anything you place on the internet can be found. Present yourself in a way that would not embarrass your grandmother or turn off a potential employer.
So, do you have a professional network started? If not, start intentionally building your network. The time invested in real relationships both personal and professional today will certainly reap great dividends throughout the rest of your career.