The importance of personal and professional networking in landing jobs and building a strong, lasting career is undeniable. As reported by CNBC, research shows that networking is responsible for filling up to 80% of positions, and well over half of jobs are not even posted on public job boards.
As such, networking is a key skill for Master of Business Administration (MBA) students to develop and should be a focus of their graduate study. This may be especially true for post-military MBA students, as their time in service means they may never have had to network for a job before. Networking isn’t just who you happen to know; it’s actively creating and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships that will play a role in your career success.
The Online MBA program at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business helps students develop their networking skills and provides ample opportunities for them to build valuable relationships. It invests in resources specifically for veterans and has been named one of the best online MBA programs for veterans by U.S. News & World Report.
Networking While Still in the Service
Building a network is not a task to begin while in the process of leaving service, says Matthew Beer, a U.S. Air Force veteran and the military and veteran affairs manager for Carson College’s Online MBA program. “Whether you’re leaving the military in four years or 14 years, you need to start thinking about this right away. A network is a garden that doesn’t just grow overnight. You have to plant the seeds and nurture it.”
He recommends approaching networking as a job, alongside one’s military service, and working at it with the same kind of discipline.
“My last years in the Air Force, that was my homework every night,” he recalls. “I’d come home, do all my stuff, and then sit down at the computer for several hours.”
Although networking while on active duty can be challenging, service members can leverage several strategies.
Link to LinkedIn
LinkedIn is an online professional network with over 750 million members worldwide. Creating a profile can lead to unexpected contacts as others view it and the site suggests possible connections. Future MBA students may want to follow some of the 57 million businesses and organizations on LinkedIn, which can provide more potential contacts, as well as valuable intelligence about fields they may be interested in exploring.
LinkedIn also offers a free one-year premium career subscription to active service members and veterans.
Joining a chamber of commerce or service organization can help to launch a local network for a service member who hopes to stay in the same geographic area after leaving the military. Volunteering can also offer a taste of a prospective career.
Talk with Small-Business Owners
For individuals interested in entrepreneurship, a simple way to learn about starting a business is to converse with somebody who runs one. “The military rewards you for being the best soldier, sailor, or Marine you can be, but if you want to be an entrepreneur, you need to start talking to people who are running small businesses in your local area,” Beer says. “Talk to the guy who owns a barbecue shack outside of Fort Bragg about their experience.”
Start a Side Business
Future military MBA students may want to consider turning a hobby or passion into a side business. It will not only give them experience in everything from business planning to accounting to customer service, but it can be an invaluable way to build a network of partners, customers, and other contacts.
Networking Through Organizations
In or out of the military, organizations can be another valuable networking resource. When Beer first left the service, the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas introduced him to other professionals serving veterans and to a wide variety of veteran-oriented groups.
“The biggest thing I got out of that experience was the network,” he says. Today, he leverages that network by referring aspiring veteran professionals to some of those organizations.
Bunker Labs offers structured programs for veterans to conceive and launch businesses while supporting them with resources and mentoring. Its programs include a six-month incubator called Veterans in Residence. The nonprofit cites more than $812 million in revenue and 2,900 jobs created by its participants.
One-on-one mentoring can be crucial for a veteran professional to navigate the challenges of a business career. Veterati operates a network of business mentors who counsel service members, veterans, and military spouses on one-hour calls. The average user connects with four different mentors.
50strong eases the transition from the military to the business world by connecting employers with veterans. It also partners with the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program, offering internships that can let active service members try out potential careers.
Networking in Higher Education
MBA programs, in particular, offer great opportunities for networking, as they bring together civilian and post-military MBA students alike with others who share a passion for business, have started businesses, or have worked in various professional roles. Furthermore, MBA programs expose students to professors, staff, guest speakers, alumni, and others with varied backgrounds and vast networks of their own.
At Washington State University (WSU), military MBA students can develop their networking skills, along with a host of other skills, through extracurricular activities and career resources developed with their specific needs in mind. This includes relationships with nonprofit organizations that serve veterans, such as American Corporate Partners and The COMMIT Foundation. Military-affiliated students make up some 15% of Carson College’s Online MBA program.
The program also hosts formal events for networking, such as a multiday leadership conference, at which Executive MBA students mix with alumni, faculty, and industry experts, and the military-focused Veterans All Call, at which military-affiliated students have an opportunity to connect with professionals from a variety of industries.
Regarding the Veterans All Call, Beer says, “We invite students, alumni, community partners, and academic industry experts to explore the value-add of veterans in the workplace. It’s a great conversation between members of the military and members of industry.”
Heather Bui, a Navy officer and Washington State Online MBA alumna, says that the connections she’s made through the WSU Online MBA program will be invaluable in the years ahead. “I’ve gotten a feel for people who’ve been in business all their lives, people who work in different industries, and other transitioning military members,” she said.
Alumnus Kevin Beasley, who’s now an international buyer for Abilene Machine, says the connections he made in the MBA program run deeper than a typical professional network.
“It’s just like in the military,” he says. “You have brothers and sisters to your left and right that will continue to help you, continue to push you, and continue to aid you while you reach that final goal.”
Create Networks While Getting an MBA Online
For a post-military MBA student, a strong degree program can aid the transition from the military to the business world. It can provide essential business skills while offering broad opportunities to create personal networks.
An online program, such as the Online MBA at Washington State University’s Carson College of Business, offers an additional benefit: It allows veterans and their spouses to pursue their studies without taking leave from their careers.
The WSU Online MBA program covers basic competencies, from finance and operations management to leadership and business law. It also provides specialized coaching for veterans on skills ranging from creating a personal brand to writing a resume to networking. Discover how such a program can help yesterday’s soldier become tomorrow’s successful business professional.