The Best Networking Strategies
“Your network is your net worth.”
Pretty catchy, isn’t it? Like your net worth, your network’s value grows or depreciates with every interaction. In the end, size and scope aren’t always the best barometers for a network’s value. Instead, networks are often measured by less quantifiable measures like goodwill, engagement, and stature.
These days, networks differentiate business schools as much as curriculum or services. For example, if you want to work in investment banking, you’d likely target New York University’s Stern School of Business, which has the highest concentration of MBAs at Goldman Sachs, Citi, Morgan Stanley, and J.P. Morgan. No doubt, your network is your destiny as much as your net worth. And they can be your ticket into business school, as much as opening doors to your dream employer.
In her recent U.S. News & World Report column, Stacy Blackman, a leading business school consultant, shared three strategies for beefing up your network’s quality and depth as you apply to business school (and beyond).
First, she directs applicants to school-sponsored social media outlets like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and blogs. Here, you can engage with students, alumni, and administrators, as well as keep tabs on campus news and events. For instance, Blackman notes that prospective students can pose questions to admissions or even keep them updated using a tweet like, “Submitted my Round 1 application to @MichiganRoss today. Super excited for a chance to participate in the team-based interview.”
You can also build your network by reaching out to current students and alumni. For example, during campus visits, Blackman encourages applicants to speak to ask admissions offices connect them with “like-minded’ students in particular clubs and specializations to learn from an insider’s experience. “Once you’ve made contact,” Blackman writes, “these are great people to stay loosely in touch with as you make up your final list of schools. Sometimes, you can even name drop a bit in your essays to show you have really done personal research and gotten to know the program and its student body.”
Finally, Blackman advises prospective students to regularly attend business school events. And this offers two benefits. First, it reinforces to adcoms that you’re truly committed. “It makes a school feel loved,” Blackman points out. “Everyone likes to feel loved, even admissions committee members.”
Even more, it exposes students to potential alumni advocates, provided you make a good impression and stay in touch.”Sometimes you will have that meaningful conversation that can make a world of difference,” Blackman adds. “Business schools often recruit local alumni to attend these events and help sell their program to prospective students, and you may encounter people working in the same industry you hope to after earning an MBA degree.”
In a recent Linkedin column, Laurie Pickard – best known for completing an MBA curriculum via MOOCs – offered a contrarian counterpoint where you don’t need business school to build an enviable network. Instead, you just need to follow a set of rules.
And the first involves knowing what you want to be known for. “You don’t have to be the first, the only, or even the best at what you’re passionate about in order to engage in the conversation,” Pickard writes. “You do, however, have to put yourself out into the world, even if you don’t feel totally ready.” So how do you that? For Pickard, that means connecting on social media. “Comment on blog posts, share articles on social media, tweet about what’s happening in your field, guest post on a blog. Create your own blog or website, or just rock your social media profiles.”
At the same time, Pickard adds, don’t be afraid to compliment others. “When someone’s work inspires you, don’t be afraid to reach out to let them know. This goes especially for people who are building something from scratch. My experience is that these are the people who are most receptive to engaging with those who care about the work they’re doing. I’ve managed to make personal connections with many entrepreneurs, writers, and professors whose work I admire, simply by reaching out online in a way that is respectful, appreciative, and human.”
Pickard also urges readers to treat potential connections as people, not commodities or ‘trophies.’ To her, networking offers mutual benefit. “What has made my network great is engaging with people again and again, finding out where my contacts’ goals align with mine, and being genuine and helpful. That approach has paid off a thousand fold.” Even more, recognize that making connections doesn’t necessarily bear fruit immediately. “Your network should include a mix of peers, mentors, and people who can connect you to opportunities,” Pickard notes. “The thing is, you don’t always know which are which. Don’t neglect building relationships with your peers just because they might not be able to help you today. Opportunities can arise from many places.”
Finally, Pickard presses readers to do something scary. “Derek Sivers gives a great TED Talk in which he breaks down how social movements start, using a fantastic video that begins with one guy dancing at a concert. The first person to start dancing seems crazy, the next few to join in risk looking foolish alongside him, but then suddenly everyone joins in. New projects have a similar trajectory… Being one of the early joiners can pay off in a big way.”
Whether you’re an applicant looking for leg up or a self-starter seeking community, networking requires one key ingredient: Rapport. And that comes from finding similarities and showing respect, if not admiration, for each other’s efforts and accomplishments. Do that and your circle will expand – and your opportunities will grow.
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