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Networking as a Cornerstone of Veteran Career Success:

The Intersection of I-O Psychology and Networking Strategies for Veterans

Submitted by: Destinee Prete, PhD, Captain (CPT), Army Veteran, Chair, SIOP Military & Veterans Inclusion Committee

The transition from a structured military life back to a civilian setting was one of the hardest challenges I faced. As hard as I tried to just make things work, having new connections and building relationships set me up for a greater chance to succeed. I may understand what my role was in the military, but translating that to the civilian sector is not easy and utilizing resources and support from those who have shared in the same experience was significant in my transformation. Not only did networking help with my career path, but having others to guide me along my path provided me with a sense of community once again and helped me feel like I was not alone in my struggles to transition from active military to the life of a veteran.

- Charlie Bernal, ET2(SS), US Navy, SIOP Military & Veterans Inclusion Committee Member

The transition from military service to civilian life is a pivotal and often challenging journey for veterans. In this transition, effective networking plays a strategic role in shaping career success. Networking is defined a “goal-directed behavior which occurs both inside and outside of an organization, focused on creating, cultivating, and utilizing interpersonal relationships” (Gibson et al., 2014, p. 146). For veterans, the ability to build and maintain professional networks in civilian contexts is critical. This article showcases the significance of strategic networking and its associated behaviors during the military-to-civilian transitions, drawing on insights and principles of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology. Additionally, the article touches on I-O psychology-based networking strategies, briefly examines the process of network development in civilian environments, and sheds light on the emerging role of digital platforms in veteran networking. Ultimately, it emphasizes both the academic and practical importance of networking for veteran career success and offers some recommendations to I-O psychology professionals and practitioners.

The Strategic Importance of Networking

As a disabled vet I find it difficult to find a place to belong. Networking offers an opportunity to be introduced to someone that you can trust, and through them, as if it was natural, you begin to meet a whole bunch of people. In a strange way, networking became somewhat like a treatment option for my anxiety.

- Jason Hamill, ME1, US Coast Guard, SIOP Military & Veterans Inclusion Committee member

Networking is not just a buzzword; it's a fundamental aspect of career development, and its importance cannot be overstated, especially during the military-to-civilian transition. Veterans bring a unique skill set to the civilian workforce, but they often face the challenge of translating their military experiences into the language of civilian employers. Networking provides veterans with a platform to bridge this gap. It allows them to connect with professionals who can provide guidance, mentorship, and job opportunities, thereby facilitating a potentially smoother transition. Building a professional network in civilian life involves a multistep process. Veterans should work to identify their target networks, whether within their chosen industry or community organizations. They should approach networking with a genuine interest in learning from others and offering their unique perspectives in return. Regular follow-ups and maintaining relationships are equally important. This process aligns with I-O psychology's focus on relationship building and rapport.

Networking Behaviors: The Process of Building and Maintaining Networks

Networking behaviors can facilitate connections and collaboration. Networking behavior is defined as “individuals’ attempts to develop and maintain relationships with others who have the potential to assist them in their work or career” (Forret & Dougherty, 2001, p. 284). Effective networking behavior involves developing trusting relationships with others and sharing (Forret, 2018). Networking behaviors are related to important career outcomes such as compensation, advancement, and career satisfaction (Simmons et al., 2022). These behaviors not only facilitate knowledge exchange but also foster trust, collaboration, and a sense of shared purpose. Becoming proficient in networking helps to develop a job seeker’s career competencies; this can open both anticipated as well as unexpected job opportunities in the marketplace (Forret, 2018).

Engaging in networking behaviors such as active listening, information sharing, building rapport, follow-up, identifying common goals, and social media engagement are foundational elements that cultivate meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships. Networking behaviors are primarily concerned with the development and maintenance of relationships that may result in mutual job and career benefits (Forret, 2018). Active listening, for instance, is not just about hearing words but understanding experiences and perspectives. Veterans who actively listen to fellow veterans and civilian professionals gain valuable insights into the nuances of the civilian job market. Information sharing becomes a two-way street where veterans contribute their unique experiences while gaining knowledge about various industries. Ultimately, these networking behaviors are not just academic concepts; they are lifelines for veterans navigating the complexities of civilian life. They offer a sense of belonging, empowerment, and shared purpose within the broader veteran community. As veterans cultivate these behaviors, they not only enhance their career competencies but also contribute to the resilience and success of their fellow veterans, reinforcing the bonds that make the transition journey less daunting and more transformative.

The Intersection of I-O Psychology and Networking Strategies for Veterans

The very essence of I-O psychology is rooted in understanding human behavior and performance within organizational contexts, making it particularly relevant to the art of networking. I-O psychology offers a wealth of insights into effective networking strategies. Veterans can leverage these strategies to build strong, meaningful connections in the civilian world. I-O psychologists emphasize the importance of understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, setting clear networking goals, and developing strong interpersonal skills. At the core of these intersection points is the principle of self-understanding and personal branding. I-O psychology champions the concept of individuals comprehensively understanding their unique strengths, weaknesses, values, and career aspirations. This self-awareness not only aligns with I-O psychology's emphasis on individual assessment and development but also serves as the foundation upon which effective networking is built. For veterans, this principle allows them to not only articulate their military-acquired skills and experiences in a language resonant with civilian employers but also to craft a compelling personal brand that differentiates them in the competitive job market.

Additionally, the strategic aspect of setting clear, achievable networking goals is intrinsically linked with I-O psychology. This discipline highlights the importance of well-defined objectives, which are instrumental in guiding one's networking efforts. I-O psychology principles underscore the significance of purposeful connections in career development, mirroring veterans' goals during their transition. As veterans apply these principles, they can seamlessly incorporate I-O psychology's core principles into their networking strategies, leveraging their military experiences to forge meaningful connections in the realm of I-O psychology and beyond. Veterans can apply these principles to identify potential mentors, seek informational interviews, and engage in industry-specific networking events. These strategies not only augment their networking prowess but also encapsulate the essence of I-O psychology, ultimately contributing to enhanced career success during their civilian pursuits.

What Can I-O Psychology Professionals Do?

Some recommendations for I-O psychology researchers to contribute to the development of evidence-based networking strategies tailored specifically for veterans transitioning to civilian careers:

  1. Conduct empirical research. I-O psychologists can design and conduct research studies to understand the networking challenges and needs of veterans during their transition.
  2. Collaborate with veterans. Involve veterans in the research process to gain firsthand insights into their networking experiences and preferences.
  3. Develop veteran-specific networking models. Based on research findings, create evidence-based networking models that address the unique aspects of veterans' transitions.
  4. Test interventions. Evaluate the effectiveness of networking interventions in supporting veterans' career transitions and adjust strategies based on outcomes.

The Role of Digital Platforms

Digital platforms have become invaluable tools for networking, and this holds true for veterans as well. LinkedIn, for instance, provides a virtual space for veterans to connect with potential employers and like-minded professionals. LinkedIn serves as a dynamic hub where veterans can showcase their military-acquired skills and experiences, and access resources and insights specific to their career aspirations. LinkedIn simplifies the exchange of information, allowing veterans to create robust profiles that highlight their strengths and achievements in ways that resonate with civilian employers. Transforming military experiences into civilian-friendly narratives is crucial for successful networking and career transitions. Furthermore, LinkedIn groups and communities offer forums for veterans to engage in discussions, share industry-specific knowledge, and establish connections with professionals who share their career interests. In essence, digital platforms like LinkedIn have redefined veteran networking, making it more accessible and responsive to the evolving needs of veterans.

Conclusion

In conclusion, networking is not a mere option but a cornerstone of veteran career success in the civilian world. I-O psychology offers a framework that empowers veterans to navigate the networking landscape strategically. By understanding the importance of networking, applying I-O psychology-based strategies, and embracing both traditional and digital platforms, veterans can harness the power of networking to accelerate their career transitions. It is an academic insight grounded in practical reality: Networking is the bridge that connects veterans to new opportunities and helps them thrive in civilian careers.

*Each year, the SIOP Military & Veterans Inclusion Committee gets an opportunity to share insights into relevant military-connected topics and the intersection of the field of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology during the month of November in celebration and reflection of Veterans Day (November 11). The committee shares insights from its members through four different articles and several social media posts. This article is the first article of four.

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References

Forret, M. (2018). Networking as a job search behavior and career management strategy. In C. Klehe & E. Van Hooft (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of job loss and job search (pp. 257-292). Oxford University Press.

Forret, M. & Dougherty, W. (2001). Correlates of networking behavior for managerial and professional employees. Group and Organization Management, 26(3), 283-311.

Gibson, C., Hardy, H. & Buckley, R. (2014). Understanding the role of networking in organizations. Career Development International, 19(2), 146-161.

Simmons, J., Wolff, H., Forret, M. & Sullivan, S. (2022). A longitudinal investigation of the Kaleidoscope Career Model, networking behaviors, and career success. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 138(1).

 

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