Today’s employers often say that they wish to recruit diverse candidates and that’s good news for most job applicants because most are in some way diverse, or different, from other potential candidates. It also means, though, that job seekers need to build a diverse network of contacts to help them show up on the radar screens of companies, recruiters and hiring managers.
Too often, though, we have a tendency to interact with people “just like us.” Military professionals are no exception. Military professionals know and interact with other military professionals. But, when they’re looking for jobs as civilians, it pays to cast a wider net to become top of mind for the companies they wish to work for.
Looking Beyond Your Comfort Zone
Peter Noble Darrow is a serial start-up entrepreneur, expert networker, and the debut author of Wise Millennial. A millennial himself, Darrow says: “Networking is like dating and millennials in particular suck at dating! We have a very clear idea of what *we think* we want, and only engage with those individuals.” Millennials, he says, are “also incredibly fearful of rejection and injuring our fragile egos, so we tend to talk with people similar in appearance or mindset, in hopes that our ‘conversion ratio’ will be 100%.” Of course, he says, that’s simply not going to happen. You won’t hit it off with everyone, and that’s okay.
Recognizing that not every connection will be a successful one, push yourself to reach out beyond your normal comfort zone to connect with people who aren’t like you. Not only is that a great way to build a diverse network, but also a great way to learn something new.
When building a network, Darrow says, “we want to find people who will complement our strengths and bolster areas of weakness.” For example, he says, if you’re excellent at marketing, but terrible with numbers, you might enjoy conversations with other marketers, but that won’t help you in the long run. Better, he says, to find someone who loves to crunch numbers and is extremely detail oriented.
Keep your eye on your main objective, Darrow recommends. You want to grow your network. Don’t overanalyze and don’t judge other based on appearances or mindset. “You have no idea who is in their network, or who they can put you in contact with.”
Leverage LinkedIn for Social Growth
Jordan Wan is founder and CEO of CloserIQ, a recruiting firm. Wan recommends starting with your “inner circle”—your immediate professional network, when working to grow your network and add diversity. But, then branch out. LinkedIn is a great place to find new connections—“a powerful tool where you can search for people by geography, title and company type.”
When using LinkedIn, start by looking for mutual connections among your own network and then reach out to request an introduction. Then cast a wider net by doing searches for the types of individuals you’re hoping to connect with. Don’t forget to reach out to recruiters! They’re eager to build their own network for top candidates to fill increasingly hard-to-fill roles.
LinkedIn groups can also be a great way to connect with others. Again, consider joining not just groups that contact people like you, but other groups that will expose you to a variety of different types of people with different interests.
While digital tools like LinkedIn, Facebook and others make it easy for anyone to build a network online that can reach, literally, around the globe, face-to-face networking events still hold great value for those hoping to build a diverse network.
Jason Craparo is CEO of Hio, a networking app for event planners and attendees. When considering networking events, Craparo advises, have a goal in mind. “Since you’re trying to build a diverse network, make sure there is variety in the events you attend. Don’t just focus on attending events in your industry. Broaden your strategy to attend events that are for different audiences.” When at events, he recommends spending no more than five minutes with each person you interact with. “Limiting the amount of time with each person you want to meet ensures that your conversation will be focused, efficient, and leave the person you are connecting with wanting more. It will also give you enough time to meet a variety of people.”
In addition, Craparo recommends setting specific goals in terms of the outcomes you hope to achieve through your networking efforts. For instance, he says: “When I attend Network After Work events, which have color-coded badges to help me identify other attendees’ industries and functional areas, I seek to meet people with different colored badges. This allows me to meet people who have an array of industry and functional experience.”
Track Your Network and Your Results
If you’re really serious and committed to building a diverse network to help in your job search and career development, take it seriously!
Wan recommends taking a very business-like approach to building your network and suggests setting up a simple Google spreadsheet to help keep track of your initial lead list. There’s no need to invest in an expensive CRM system, he says, “unless you have a sizable lead list and find it challenging to keep track of conversation threads.” Even then, he suggests, you could look into “lightweight CRMs like Pipedrive, Streak or Zoho.”
Opportunities to build a broad network are all around you. The key is to make a conscious effort to connect with people who aren’t just like you by reaching out to others with different backgrounds, interests, lifestyles and social interests. You’ll be glad you did.