As you leave the military, letting your curiosity guide your approach to networking is one of the best ways to transform the quality of your professional connections. Unfortunately, the military job market is unique and many of us enter the civilian world without an advanced understanding of how to use a professional network to our best advantage. Here are a few things to keep in mind about how curiosity impacts your networking outcomes:
1. It keeps you genuine.
Approaching your professional networking interactions with curiosity means that you will be a much more engaging and genuine person in conversation. The easiest way to do this is to actively listen and carefully consider what the other person is saying. This may seem obvious, but if you pay attention, few people actually do this in their normal interactions. Everyone you talk to will have something interesting to say, and if you are thirsty to know what that might be, you will succeed at networking. This will also help to separate you from the mass of people who simply ask lots of questions in order to catch someone in conversation, and then wait for them to pause for breath to launch into a speech about their awesomeness. As an added bonus, being a curious and careful listener increases the odds that someone may be willing to follow up with you later.
2. It helps keep you focused on jobs related to your interests.
If you are honestly curious about an industry, class, or career option that you heard about from a professional contact, then that’s a good sign that you might be on the right track to a job that fits you well. On the other hand, if you were advised to become a long-haul truck driver, and yet you can’t stand even pretending to be interested in the industry in conversation, then you may be setting yourself up for failure. If you’re early in a search process, it’s best to trust your curiosity by focusing your effort on finding and talking to people who do work that really excites you. Here are a few questions to ask to get you started:
- How did you get involved in…?
- What is your favorite part of your job? Least favorite?
- What are some typical examples of difficult situations you have to deal with at work with clients/customers?
- What are the coming changes and trends that will affect your line of work in the next few years?
3. It can lead to unexpected outcomes.
When you are curious about a potential career, it will encourage you to dig deeper into your available resources to learn as much as possible. Even if this seems like a waste of time, indulge yourself and absorb whatever you can, whether from formal networking events, Google, Twitter contacts, industry magazines, or casual conversation. This knowledge will serve you well in interviews, but real curiosity will also help you to identify the gaps in your understanding and potential alternatives that you might never have considered before. There’s no reason to limit your efforts to a few well-known industries or government sectors. Be open to going wherever your curiosity might take you.
For example, you may go into a conversation with a new contact interested in their work at a strategic communications company. However, as you learn about their business model, you might come to see that your skills are a better match for a mapping technology company that they partner with on several major contracts. If you are open to following your curiosity, this could be an exciting and unexpected lead for your next job.