One of my younger brothers served in the US Marine Corps and performed a number of tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was a truck driver who ferried supplies and troop where they were needed. Because he underwent additional training in security, he drove the lead truck that had extra armor and a big mine-sweeper. His job was to uncover any hidden dangers and obstacles, and then respond to them. There’s a picture that he took in Iraq of him standing outside one of his trucks.
He played a critical role in ensuring that each mission was successful. Pre-planning and strategy were important, but on a daily basis the guys in the trucks behind him were glad to have someone out front keeping things safe. He was going to discover and handle what happened in the moment.
In the same way, it’s important to have “minesweepers” for you career. Hopefully, your professional life doesn’t have as many life or death situations, but you can receive tremendous value from the feedback of someone who is a little farther down the road.
Looking down the Road
A few weeks before I released Networking in the 21 Century: Why Your Network Sucks and What to Do About It, I had the chance to grab a conversation with Scott Berkun. He’s the author of a number of great books, including A Year Without Pants and Ghost of my Father. (And a pretty insightful blog which I highly recommend).
I had no frame of reference for what would happen when I released the book, so we discussed general strategic ideas about book publishing. I also asked him about some very tactical questions about the book launch. He shared insights based on his previous book launches, and helped me construct a mental picture of what it took to successfully publish a book. In fact, one of his answers about book fulfillment saved me a whole lot of headache (and a few bucks).
Many people approach networking to build up connections with leaders and influencers in their field. It’s great to find experienced people you can approach to help you with large-scale questions, and it’s valuable to connect with mentors who can advise you about strategic career issues. But don’t limit yourself to just those who are at the top and much farther out.
It can be even more helpful to receive relevant feedback from someone who is just a little farther down the road. Just like my brother’s minesweeper gave “real-time” information to the trucks behind him, you want feedback that is “close” to the next step on your career path. This is the feedback that can help you make better tactical decisions in the near future.
How Relationships Can Help
When you are building connections, seek out people who are just a little farther along then you are. Find people who are where you want to be in your career in the next few years, and befriend them. It’s likely that they recently went through similar situations and they will have ideas and suggestions that you can implement right away. Their feedback will be immediate and timely.
This kind of tactical feedback can go both ways. You don’t have to be at the end of your career to provide useful information to others. It’s all relative. Just as there are others who are just a little farther in their career, you too will have more experience than professionals just coming up. You can find opportunities to be the “mine-sweeper” for those who aren’t as far along as you.
It’s impossible to identify all of the pitfalls and mines in our career path on our own. Many times, we don’t know what we’re looking for or even recognize an issue when it’s present. Surround yourself with people who have “been there and done that”. You’ll avoid many problems, and more importantly, you’ll be able to seize opportunities when they are pointed out to you!
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can find it here!