If you’re looking to get the inside scoop on what’s happening at any company, the quickest way to put your finger on the pulse is to spend time hanging around the water cooler.  Yeah, there might be a lot of gossip and rumors mixed in with the real dirt, but it seems like the water cooler is the one place where people feel comfortable enough to say what’s really on their minds.  For security contractors working on location around the world, does it come as any surprise that these water coolers are located virtually, on the Internet?

                Personally, I love surfing these forums!  There’s no better place to keep up with the changes going on with the major names in security contracting, and also to learn who’s hiring and who’s not.  I’ve heard that the best way to learn about any job is to start hanging around someone who’s working in that position already, and this rule is no different when it comes to overseas security contractors.  The only obstacle is the location, and since you can’t exactly hop a flight to Afghanistan for a position on a PSD team as part of an unpaid internship, for now you’ll probably have to settle for surfing the web.

                Security-based online networking forums aren’t too different from real-life watercoolers, though.  There’s usually an established hierarchy with a couple of forum administrators in charge, and a long-established set of rules and behaviors to live by.  These guidelines might vary a little from forum to forum, but here are a couple of pieces of general advice to help you get the most from your online experience:

1)       Your first post should be an introduction. 

Just like everyone hates that jackass who walks up in the middle of a conversation, you don’t want to be “that guy” who crashes a thread (the name given to a topic of discussion).  There’s usually a separate section for new members’ Introductions, where at the very least you should state your past experience and what you hope to achieve by joining the forum.  Keep in mind that this is not the place to stick your chest out and brag about your accomplishments, just a chance to say “Hi, I’m here.”  Also, beware of posting any personal information like your real name or contact information.  Once it’s out there on the Net, it’s there for anyone to use or abuse.

2)      DO NOT ask anyone for a job, or for any kind of hook-up!

This is one of my biggest pet peeves!   If someone doesn’t know you personally, what makes you think they’d hire you sight unseen, or even vouch for a complete stranger by submitting a referral?  It’s not going to happen, so the only thing you’ll accomplish by asking is to make yourself look like a complete noob.  Occasionally one of the members’ companies might have a quick-fill job opening so they’ll post it out there for other members to take advantage of, but other than that you’re on your own when it comes to job applications.     

3)       Always search before you ask.

Just like the older vets seem to have “been there and done that”, the older forum members have probably already “been there and read that” on the forum.  Do everyone else a favor and run a search for your questions to see if they’ve been answered before you clutter up the site with the same stuff that’s been addressed a hundred times over. 

4)       Listen more than you talk (or post).

You can learn a lot by shutting your trap, or at least by talking less than the people around you.  If you’re willing to do a lot more reading than typing, you’ll probably receive a better welcome than the dude who posts 100 new topics during his first month on the forum.  Remember, the time you spend typing in messages or checking back for updates on interesting topics is time that you can spend reviewing company websites or revising your application packages. 

Still with me?  Haven’t gotten scared off from online networking yet?  Great, then let’s get started.  Try checking out Secure Aspects, CP World, Get off the X Forums, Lightfighter Tactical Forums, Professional Soldiers, just to name a few.  Happy networking!