Networking is important for all career pathways, but in the tightly knit defence industry it’s crucial. That’s according to Olivia Agate, one of Kinexus’ most experienced Business Development Managers, and a seasoned defence industry networker.
“The defence industry in Australia is quite small and very much driven by relationships,” Olivia says.
To put it into some perspective, The 2016 Defence Industry Policy Statement indicated that 25,000 people were employed in the nation’s defence industry, representing just 0.24 per cent of total employment - equivalent to just 2.9 per cent of jobs in the manufacturing sector for example.
That’s a relatively small workforce when you consider the strategic importance of the industry - one which has a significant cross over with the Australian Defence Force.
“A lot of people working in the defence industry have come from serving in the Defence Force, so there's definitely a strong common bond and culture throughout the sector.”
“Reputations are key. It’s important to ensure you’re connecting with and making a good impression on people who have the potential to influence your career. And it’s really important to build up that network,” states Olivia.
Having said that, networking, especially with high level industry professionals, can be daunting, so it’s important to make sure you’re well informed about what’s going on.
To feel confident and engaged, Olivia suggests that it’s worth taking the time to do your research on the people you’re planning to meet, their company and the marketplace that surrounds them.
“If I’m attending a large conference for example, I’ll try to establish who is going to be there and who I most want to meet. Then I make sure I know the key projects they’re working on and bidding for, as well as other recent activity that allows me to get a better picture of where they’re at and what they might need. I gain more from conversations when I know the broader picture, and it helps with spotting opportunities and solving problems”, says Olivia.
She also adds that it’s important to plan so that you “know what you want to get out of your conversations and meetings. Be clear on the key points you want to talk about, respect people’s time by not being too long-winded, and take time to listen to what others have to share with you.”
While preparation is key, Olivia says it’s also important to remain natural and engaged, and not too clinical in your approach.
Small talk can go a long way
“A lot of networking is about finding commonality and that’s where the connection comes. Finding mutual interests outside of work can be great, whether it be sport, music or hobbies,” she says.
“Big conferences like Pacific, Land Forces and Avalon are great ways to make initial contacts. So too are smaller events like BD After 5, which provides an opportunity to network in a more casual and fun environment.”
Olivia says it’s important to follow up and keep the relationships progressing through further meetings and phone calls. “Buying a coffee and sitting in front of someone face-to-face goes a long way,” Olivia says.
The COVID-19 impact on networking
Olivia says the pandemic has obviously had a significant impact on traditional networking over the last 12 months.
“While COVID-19 has made face-to-face catch ups difficult, video calls have proven to be a useful tool when in-person meetings aren’t possible - either due to COVID-19 or geographic constraints,” she says.
“We’ll obviously see a lot more use of video technology going forward, and they offer a great opportunity to connect with people, who aren't nearby”.
“Attending online networking sessions and even virtual drinks’ evenings is becoming increasingly popular, and will evolve as it becomes more natural. However, when possible, it’s always best to meet in person if you can, as that’s where the best connections are made.”
“Regardless of how you do it, building strong relationships is key to a successful career in the defence industry, so make sure you put your best foot forward at your next networking event - whether it be in-person or virtual.”
For more advice on how the defence industry works, get in touch with Olivia or our broader team.
Want to know more?
Review additional detail made available in the Seventh Edition of Kinexus’ Defence Industry Insights, which is available to download.
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