Pursuing an MBA and confused about networking? Read our top networking tips to make your business life a success.
Why do people study MBAs? The business acumen they’ll acquire? The experience? Or is it the opportunity to network? For many, the latter holds the key. While it’s possible to become a business expert purely in the ‘real world’, good connections are not so easy to come by. One major incentive for MBAs to attend business school is the networking opportunities which will be available for them. Indeed, that’s the reason so many major business schools promote their alumni networks alongside their courses.
While some eschew networking as sycophantic, most realize the power in having connections. One recent survey found that around 85% of all jobs are found via networking, and with the advent of social media and the ease with which people can connect online, personal contacts are more important than ever.
Business schools offer unrestricted access to a group of likeminded peers and a vast alumni network. In this environment, those looking for advice or the next step in their careers are inundated with opportunities in this environment.
To make the most of this, here are our top networking tips:
1. Know your network
The most important networking tip and the most essential part of networking is ensuring that you’re targeting the right people. You could have a thousand contacts, but unless they work in a useful field for your career, all you’ll be left with is a thousand new LinkedIn connections. Think about where you’re planning on working after graduation, both geographically and within which industry, and make contacts accordingly. While researching your MBA, look at alumni lists for information on the typical areas graduates move on to – if your desired industry isn’t well represented, it might be worth considering other schools. It’s vital that the people you’ll be networking with are beneficial to you in the long run.
While rankings and institution guides are great places to get basic info on alumni networks and typical students, meeting schools in person is the best way to get the answers you need. Shortlist some options and look at MBA fairs, to speak to representatives one-to-one. Not only will MBA fairs allow you to compare schools more easily, they’ll also provide you with a good understanding of the ‘character’ of the institution. Even a cursory conversation with a representative can offer significantly deeper insights than information on a website.
At MBA and Graduate Studies fairs, candidates are given the opportunity to book private meetings with institutions, giving you the opportunity to go into more detail about whether this is the right course and institution for you. Make sure you delve into the kinds of students who attend and if possible speak to alumni (who often represent schools at these events) to gauge if the institution is a good match.
2. Have a good pitch
When you start an MBA, every other candidate will be vying for contacts too. Our second key networking tip is knowing your own pitch.
For those new to the business world, a personal pitch (or elevator pitch, if you like) is a brief summary of who you are in a professional context. It’s useful in a lot of different situations, particularly when networking. Ensuring that you can sell yourself well is hugely beneficial to the caliber of contacts you’ll make.
Your pitch should be less than two minutes, and cover: what you currently do, what you know how to do, who you’ve worked for and your future aims. Ensure that it demonstrates your strengths, without sounding boastful, condescending or too run-of-the-mill. Research good examples and put time into your own, the effort will pay off in the long run.
3. Start networking as soon as possible and whenever you can
Many students leave making connections for specified networking events or dinners, but this approach alone could see you losing out on important opportunities. To put yourself ahead of the crowd, you should do independent research into people who would make good contacts, then find out any events they’ll be attending and make an effort to meet them yourself.
There’s also no reason to wait until your course starts to begin. Speak to people as often as you possibly can. While researching institutions, look for notable alumni and write their names down for future reference, or find out who will be attending MBA fairs near to you. MBA and Graduate Studies events feature panels and seminars, often run by experts in their fields. By attending one of these fairs, you have the opportunity to not only meet potential peers and alumni, but also these experts themselves.
4. Don’t be afraid to contact people
Reaching out to strangers is nerve-wracking – especially for those new to the concept. If you’re worrying about this, remember that most people are actually very happy to offer their expertise and, more often than not, will engage with you. Consider how you’d feel if someone reached out to you for business advice – you’d be flattered. Not only this, but alumni tend to be very proud of their alma maters, and are very willing to talk to potential students about their time there.
The second-best fear-conquering networking tip is to prepare thoroughly beforehand. Standardized emails or phone calls will come across as lazy and possibly insulting, so take the time to research the person you’re attempting to speak to beforehand.
If the fear of making the first step is too much, specific networking events are a good way to get over the nerves. Or, if you don’t want to wait until you’ve started your course, consider attending an MBA fair and asking schools or representatives for business cards. This will help you overcome the barrier of making the first move in an environment where people are very happy to speak to you.
Whatever the reason behind your pursuing of an MBA, to succeed in the business world networking is everything. Treat those you’re reaching out to as potential friends and partners rather than merely business connections and you’ll form relationships that will serve you throughout the rest of your careers.