Careers Manager, Krishna Ruparelia, outlines the top five ways to make the most of your MBA network.
The importance of networking as part of your career planning strategy cannot be underestimated. Unbelievably, up to 80 percent of all jobs never reach advertisement stage, as recruiters often look to colleagues, business associates, relatives, and friends to recommend candidates. Networking can help you reach and get noticed within this hidden job market but it needs to be done properly in order to build mutually useful relationships and to ensure benefit from opportunities.
Building a network – a key reason for choosing an MBA
In a survey among alumni by the Financial Times almost 76 percent of MBA graduates stated networking was an important factor in their decision to study for an MBA and almost one-third have employed someone as a result of contacts made through their alumni network. Three quarters expect their connections to open doors for them in the future, so the value of your professional network cannot be underestimated.
One of the main reasons why people are attracted to study for their MBA is that they will have great network of classmates, academics, staff, alumni, business contacts and friends to plug into. Many of our MBA graduates say, even after many years, that they are still in touch with their classmates from their cohort, personally and professionally. Our graduates find this close network an invaluable career and skills development resource that lasts a lifetime. In the same Financial Times survey 72 percent reported regular contact with their fellow students three years after graduation.
The power of networking
Networking can strike fear into the heart of the most senior business professionals but the reality is that it is an essential career development activity. It is also an excellent way to gain insights, share knowledge, develop new ventures, and discover new contacts and friends. The benefits are unlimited but the key to successful networking is that is a two-way street; it needs to be mutually beneficial to all parties.
A study of 65 lawyers at a large North American law firm by Tiziana Casciaro (University of Toronto), Francesca Gino (Harvard University), and Maryam Kouchaki (Kellogg School of Management) found that their success depended on their ability to network effectively internally, to win key clients, and externally, to bring new business into the firm. Those who found networking distasteful and avoided it had fewer billable hours than their peers.
Top tips for successful networking
Networking can be instigated online, face to face and over the phone but do you get it right? Here are some top tips for networking success:
Before you set out to network think about what you want to showcase about yourself, what you have to offer and what you want to achieve. Research the people you want to talk to and think about what you might want to talk about with them.
2. Focus on learning
When networking adopt an open mind-set with the attitude of curiosity, helpfulness, and willingness to share rather than a mind-set of ‘what can I get out of this?’ You never know where the conversation may lead and what opportunities may arise!
3. Identify common interests
Think about how your interests and goals align with those of people you meet and how that can help you forge meaningful working relationships. When shared interests drive your networking, it will feel more authentic. For example, if you are at a networking event full of strangers, introducing yourself informally – who you are, what you do and why you are here can help set the scene and help in initiating a connection.
Remember everyone at a networking event will be in a similar position so just break the ice – and start the conversation! You will be surprised at how easy it is to build rapport and find commonality with life experiences, knowing common friends or business contacts, working in the same industry etc. Building rapport can help build connections and this makes the whole experience pleasant and fun rather than uncomfortable and intimidating.
4. Think about what you can give
Even when you do not share an interest with someone, you can probably find something valuable to offer by thinking beyond the obvious. Networking is an attitude and we all have our own individual strengths and talents (often unrealised!) which can be really valuable to others. Think objectively about what you can give to others that might be useful, insightful or interesting and showcase how you can help.
5. Find a purpose and sustain your network
Another factor that affects people’s interest in and effectiveness at networking is the primary purpose they have in mind when they do it. For example, what is your intention for connecting with others? Once you establish connections it is useful to share what the broader intention is! For example, it could be that you have ambition to establish a charity and you find that one of your networks has similar values to you and who knows you can collaborate with on a higher purpose. Making new connections through your network is only part of the story though, those who do this well put considerable efforts into maintaining those connections so that this needs to be a continuous process, not just isolated bursts of activity.
Overall the most important things to remember when networking are:
…and have fun!