Getting an MBA is hard, but It’s not all about the books. You’ll also want to take time to build your professional network while you’re in your MBA program.
Your MBA program may have the best reputation in the world, but a half of what you spend your hard-earned time and money on when you go to graduate school is access to people.
It’s a chance to meet like-minded fellows who will help you catapult into the next chapter of your career. The friends you make and people with whom you interact will punch your ticket, so to speak — so be sure to choose your comrades carefully.
Here’s some advice on how to best grow your network during your MBA program, so you can get the most from your degree: (Click here to tweet this advice.)
Win friends now to do business later
Dale Carnegie’s famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, is a networking bible. First and foremost, it’s about how to “win friends,” and though Carnegie is a little mercenary about it, building a network of friends is exceptionally helpful for every situation — not just in business. People will become a support network emotionally, too.
As an MBA student, a great way to make friends is to be open during group projects in class — just make sure you work hard to do your part. Another excellent outlet is to join related extracurricular associations on campus, like cultural or athletic groups.
Friendship is usually about simple shared experiences and then keeping in touch, and it’s pretty easy to stay vaguely connected these days through something called “social media” — perhaps you’ve heard of it? But, if possible, try to take your relationships to the personal level and keep them there.
One tip I recently heard: A friend of mine takes the time to call at least one of his friends every day on a rotating basis — just to jaw about what’s going on in their life. It turns out that this has been a wonderfully fruitful way to get business done, too. People enjoy it when you reach out “just because,” and it can have unintended financial benefits. Just like Babs sings, “People who need people are the luckiest.”
Buddy up to your professors
One of the best ways to network in an MBA program is to talk to your professors. They are not only available for class issues, but they’re also happy to help you with the larger questions, including picking the correct track for your skillset, resume assistance, and simply hooking you up with the right people to suit your business interests.
As soon as you start school, find a time to visit during office hours just to introduce yourself. While there, have a few questions prepared regarding class, college, or life in general. Your professors and TAs have connections that they will be happy to exploit on your behalf, but only if you take the time to get to know them and ask nicely.
Another reason to network with your teachers is that it is a good way to practice networking. Here are people in a power position who want to help you succeed. If talking with them makes you nervous, then imagine what it will be like to talk to a stranger who is the gatekeeper at the company of your dreams. Taking the time to connect with teachers who have a vested interest in you and with whom you have a built-in reference point will help prepare you for the more nerve-wracking interviews coming after graduation.
Take advantage of informational interviews
Your MBA program should be able to set up (or may simply provide) access to informational interviews with people who work in the industry that interests you. It’s imperative to take advantage of informational interviews. Not only might you meet someone who can help you in the next stage of your career or an internship placement, you may also find that what you thought of as your future is not all it’s cracked up to be.
For example, one colleague of mine was absolutely convinced she wanted to go into entertainment, until she met some of the people who would be her future bosses and coworkers. Her mind quickly changed.
When you land an informational interview make sure that you are prepared:
- Prepare a list of questions that include basic inquiries about the job and the corporate culture.
- Investigate the skills you should hone as an MBA student to have a better chance of getting hired later.
- Do: send a copy of your resume prior to the interview (and a thank you note afterward).
- Don’t: Ask for a job.
Always play nice
Developing a reputation for being foolish, hard to work with, or just a jerk will alienate people and harm your career choices. There is plenty of time to be difficult long after you’ve scored the corner office. For now, try to make nice. Be sure to contribute meaningfully to class projects, avoid showboating, and try not to talk down to others (even if they really seem to deserve it).
Remember: Always try to make friends. There’s no reason not to, and you never know from which strange relationship the next opportunity will come.
I know the concept of networking is more difficult than just saying “let’s be friends,” but by following a path of good habits in school, you will be more likely to be plugged in to your industry afterward.
Ryan Hickey is the Managing Editor of Peterson’s and EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.