Networking is a significant part of building a successful, sustainable career. It requires a set of learned skills that can help MBA students and graduates discover and explore opportunities in the field and beyond. Active networkers attend conferences, events, business meetings, and other face-to-face scenarios to make personal impressions, cultivate relationships, and stay current in the field. You will not always network in person. Digital networking through social media and email is also a critical component to developing a substantial base of trusted contacts. In either case, it is vital to create a personalized element to your networking strategy as it distinguishes your work and skills from other professionals.
Networking for students and new MBA holders plays a critical role in locating jobs in a competitive market.
MBA networking is an ideal way to meet established working professionals in the field. Networking for students and new MBA holders plays a critical role in locating jobs in a competitive market. Additionally, networking allows you to share knowledge and resources with like-minded professionals. When it comes to recent graduates, networking is especially important because it enables you to diversify your contacts, grow your business, and open doors to new and exciting opportunities.
Different Types of Professional Networks
According to the Harvard Business Review, three kinds of networking exist: operational, personal, and strategic. Operational networks are mostly internal or not far removed from your social circle. These contacts help you achieve short-term goals by completing work efficiently on a task-by-task basis. With operational networks, you should develop healthy working relationships. Often built around tasks and short-term demands, operational networks are limited and offer little to raise the bar on a grand scale.
Personal networking can help you seek opportunities outside of your organization, but alone it is not enough to propel you to the next level.
Personal networks enhance your personal and professional development. These groups and individuals offer outside referrals and help you move closer to current and future interests. Personal networking can help you seek opportunities outside of your organization, but alone it is not enough to propel you to the next level. Strategic networking is about determining future priorities, gaining leverage, and getting both internal and external contacts to support your efforts. On the downside, this can be time consuming and often takes you away from critical daily operations. These three networking strategies are not mutually exclusive. MBA graduates should practice all three networking types to maximize and diversify their contacts.
Networking events often occur at convention centers, banquet halls, universities, restaurants, and bars. They typically include question-and-answer sessions with experts in the field, lectures, and seminars. Sometimes these events are less formal, such as a job fair, and are designed to help companies and potential employees interact. Depending on the space and event type, participants engage in a range of behaviors. Social events, such as mixers and company parties, are also valuable networking opportunities. In these less-formal scenarios, you can get a sense of what a group or individual is like outside of a business setting. It also affords you the same opportunity to show your dynamic character and discuss topics, hobbies, and interests outside of work. It is generally not a good strategy to distribute business cards in these scenarios unless someone specifically asks for one.
All professionals must be able to concisely articulate what they do. The elevator pitch is a brief commercial about yourself and your work, and is an essential networking component. The pitch is usually most appropriate when you first meet someone. It should be 25-30 seconds or eight to 10 sentences long. Your pitch should describe you and your company, what you offer, the benefits you provide, and how you execute your work. Avoid speaking too quickly, rambling, or being overly formal. MBA graduates and other professionals find themselves in a variety of situations where a casual elevator pitch is appropriate. Current MBA students should include a brief reference to their year in school and, if pertinent, which school they attended, as well as their primary interests in the field.
Social Networking Sites
MBA graduates and working professionals can use a variety of social networking sites in addition to LinkedIn. Peruse this list of 20 sites that foster community building and professional networking that you might have missed. Not all of these sites require you to be a paid member, but you may discover that paid memberships often allow you to access various tools, making it worth the investment. When using multiple networking sites, always manage your privacy settings carefully and regulate business and personal contacts on each platform. By being cautious about your connections and the information you reveal, you maintain better control over your reputation and personal branding.
Networking is a crucial skill for most professionals and MBA graduates, but it does not always come quickly. You can only learn useful networking skills through experience and repeated exposure. Seasoned networkers often learn how to continue or avoid specific words and actions in their effort to make connections and forge relationships.
- Be On Time: It is crucial for personal and business contacts to know that you value their time. Being punctual for meetings or events speaks volumes about your character and how you conduct business. It also demonstrates your reliability. While it might seem simple, being on time helps build trust and increases your chances of making valuable contacts who will value your time as well.
- Ask Simple Questions and Listen: In-person networking is built around conversation. To begin a conversation, ask simple questions such as, “what brings you here today?” or “may I join you?” Listen carefully when people speak to you. Ask follow-up questions, even if they are as simple as, “would you tell me more about that?”
- Be Friendly: Being a strong, impactful professional does not mean you need a hard exterior and severe demeanor. You can be professional and serious while still being welcoming. It is helpful to smile, look people in the eyes, and engage in conversation in a way that makes everyone in your proximity feel included.
- Learn Names: This aspect of networking may never change. Learn and call people by their names. It showcases many good attributes, demonstrating that you care about people and their work, listen well, and know how to be sharp and sociable in networking situations.
- Practice Open Body Language: When you keep an open posture with your head up, shoulders back, and arms and legs uncrossed, you appear amenable to conversation and are more likely to be approached by other professionals. Avoiding eye contact, folding your arms, and turning your body away sends a message that you are shy or unfriendly.
Networking Event “Do’s”
- Set Goals: What is your purpose for attending an event? It helps to have a strategy based on working toward short-term goals. Are you there to find a job, secure new clients, or socialize? Develop a plan with clear goals and stick to it.
- Dress Appropriately: When in doubt, pick an outfit that looks professional, neat, and makes you feel confident. Appearing overly casual, disorganized, or uncomfortable can draw unwanted attention. Contrary to what you see on TV, being overdressed is rarely an issue unless you wear a tuxedo to a beach barbecue.
- Bring Business Cards: It might seem old-fashioned, but business cards are still useful in the digital age. They allow people you just met to hold a physical copy of your contact information that won’t get lost in their cell phone contacts. Bring more cards than you think you will need, and keep them crisp and clean in a card case. They will stay professional-looking and be easy for you to locate in your bag or pocket.
- Follow Up on Connections: After you have made an impression and acquired contact information, get in touch with new connections within 48 hours of meeting them. This shows that you are interested in what they do and eager to learn more about them, work with them in some capacity, or follow up on a shared interest.
- Take Notes: Odds are you will talk to dozens of people at an event. How can you keep track of the essential facts let alone specific details about each one? A simple strategy is to write notes on the back of business cards or a tiny notebook you keep with you. Your notes will help you create thoughtful dialogue when you follow up.
Networking Event “Don’ts”
- Distribute Copies of Your Resume: It may seem like a given, but distributing anything other than a business card is awkward and unprofessional. After you meet someone, you can share your resume when appropriate. Your business card contains enough information for someone to reach you after an event.
- Use a Shotgun Approach: When it comes to networking, do not try to connect with as many people as possible. Rather, spend quality time with fewer people. Take your time, get to know them, explain yourself and your work, and build a genuine rapport.
- Interrupt or Talk Over Others: One way to show respect for others’ time and ideas is by listening to them. Do not interrupt anyone, either one-on-one or in a group setting. By allowing someone to speak at length, you have an opportunity to get to know them better. If you offer that opportunity, you are more likely to have the chance to talk about your work and ask questions, as well.
- Be Intimidated: Keep your cool at all times, especially when interacting with successful people and those you admire. Most people would rather you be yourself, confident, and easy to speak with than be shy or nervous. You have something to offer in these situations. By being confident and calm, you display a valued level of professionalism.
- Neglect to Follow Up on Connections: After a meeting, do something to maintain that connection, even if you simply connect on social media. This keeps an open door between you and your new contact. Although a small gesture, thoughtfully following up with someone shows that you can keep a conversation going and build potential business relationships.