Posted on TopMBA.com December 13, 2018
Written by Julia Gilmore
Networking is one of the most valuable things a current or aspiring MBA student can do to boost their career. It is the process of forging links between people for a specific purpose, whether finding a job, a potential business collaborator or getting information and sharing knowledge. Networking should be a mutually beneficial relationship between two or more parties, with all parties bringing equal assets to the table.
What are the advantages of networking?
There are countless advantages, and it’s a skill you’ll need to stand out from your MBA peers. Here are some of the key advantages networking provides:
- Career opportunities: Networking is proven to frequently lead to job offers. According to data collected by LinkedIn, around 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking connections. Some jobs are offered to connections before they’re posted online, so networking can hugely increase your job pool.
- Gaining and exchanging knowledge: Aside from helping you get a job, networking is a fantastic learning tool. You can get more in-depth knowledge about your chosen sector, plus networking with people in different fields can broaden your perspectives and may be invaluable if choosing a new career path.
- Increased visibility: Devoting time to networking will enhance your profile in your academic community and industry. Prospective employers are likely to be more amenable if they recognize your name and/or face, and a strong personal brand will make you more attractive as an employee or business partner.
- A bigger network: You won’t just gain one connection while networking, you’ll gain several as you can connect with people in another network through your contact. Each connection multiplies your chances of finding the perfect person to build a relationship with.
Alumni from top business schools worldwide emphasize the positive impact networking has had on their careers. Luisa Rouillard, the co-founder of virtual reality start-up The Virtual Lab and an MBA graduate of ESMT Berlin, enthuses about how aspiring entrepreneurs can use their business school network to their advantage when trying to get a head start in their career:
‘Pick a school with a good entrepreneurial background so you can tap into that alumni network and get involved in entrepreneurship clubs to connect with the field. You can’t expect an MBA program to deliver every connection you need but you can really leverage the business school you’re studying at to build crucial contacts.’
Similarly, HEC Paris MBA alumna Anne-Charlotte Vuccino comments on how useful the HEC network was for her when she founded her corporate yoga company Yogist:
‘I was surprised by how much the HEC network helped in my Yogist adventure. My COO is a HEC graduate, and we understand each other so well. Our subsidiary in Sao Paolo is led by an HEC alumna from the same year as me and my COO, and everything went so smoothly with her.
‘We just had a call with a fellow alumnus who is an AXA insurance digital manager now, who is trying to get us to work with AXA as a partner.’
When should you start networking?
Realistically, you should start networking before starting your MBA course, as networking with alumni from your list of prospective business schools can be a great way to decide if a program is right for you. Choose schools which tend to have students pursuing a similar career path as you, find out about school networking events, and see if they have student clubs that align with your professional interests.
The connections you forge in the classroom may prove extremely lucrative a few years down the line, as classmates are likely to gain high-level positions in big companies or run their own businesses. You may also find potential future business partners amongst your peers.
All good business schools have a dedicated careers service which will help you connect with relevant alumni. Often this will lead to an informal meeting to discuss their career journey and advise you on career progression. Some alumni may offer work shadowing, allowing you to observe them at work to gain a deeper understanding of what their job entails.
When making a connection, your initial email should be brief and cordial, and it is wise not to attach your CV straight away. Introduce yourself, give a summary of your background and explain why you’re getting in touch. Finish the email by including your contact information and thank them for their time.
After your initial email and/or telephone correspondence, the next step is to arrange a meeting at your addressees’ convenience. Come prepared – do your research before meeting them and come with notes of questions you’d like answered. Don’t ask for a job in this initial interview, this is about gathering information and forging a connection. After, it is polite to send a note thanking them; an email is fine, but a handwritten note can seem more thoughtful and make you more memorable.
Aside from helping arrange one-on-one meetings with alumni, business schools will host or organize several MBA networking events throughout the school year. Figure out which would be most beneficial to attend and research which people you’d especially like to talk to. These events can be nerve-wracking, so come prepared with a short ‘elevator pitch’ about yourself, dress smartly, and consider investing in business cards to hand out to people you would like to speak to again.
How can you build an effective network?
Networking is probably the most powerful career tool you have at your disposal, but if you use it incorrectly you won’t build an effective network. The key thing to remember is that networking is fundamentally about people. To do it successfully, you need to build personal connections and never be brash or rude. People will notice if you only get in touch when you expect something from them.
It takes time to develop a solid network, so establishing a personal connection is important. Try and find common interests and remember the best connections you make will be with people you like. It’s worthwhile keeping a log of people you wish to keep in your network, and making notes of personal details, such as birthdays. You could also consider sending them links to news items you think they would find interesting from time to time.
Of course, social media can play an important part in network-building. LinkedIn is the most popular for business, and it’s a great idea to connect with people you’ve spoken to after meeting them. You can also reach out to people on LinkedIn to introduce yourself.
Twitter can also be a great tool, especially for media or technology focused jobs. If you already have Twitter, it’s recommended to set up another account, separate from your personal account, for networking. Keep it updated with personal opinions on issues in the sector as well as retweeting or sharing interesting links, but don’t be too controversial!
Try and connect with at least one or two people a week during your MBA. If you do a two-year MBA and make one valuable connection a month, by graduation you’ll make 24 great connections who can put you in touch with their network.
Outside of business school life, try and find other networking events in your city or area. Many are free to attend and are a great way to differentiate yourself more than at general MBA events. Volunteering can also be a fantastic way to meet people, and you’ll be giving something back to those in need (which looks good on your CV!)
Ultimately, business is all about networking, and both networking and business are about relationships between people. If you nail how to make these relationships during your time at business school, you will thank yourself in the future, and have learnt perhaps the most vital skill of your MBA.