How Much Does Networking Cost?
What’s the first business lesson that every first year absorbs?
It always costs far more than you expected.
And that’s especially true in business school. According to a November Bloomberg Businessweek study, Stanford MBAs spend $18,553 on non-essential items each year. That number is $17,717 at Wharton and $16,290 at Harvard. At that rate, Columbia is a bargain at $14,400.
But it also reveals a universal truth: To make money, you need to spend money. And one of the principal ways to do that is by networking. And making connections isn’t cheap. It may require travel to conferences, events, or even potential employers. And that doesn’t include club-sponsored trips overseas. Come Christmas break, expect classmates to fan out to everywhere from ski resorts to booze cruises, all with the subtle intention of bonding with classmates. That means lodging, meals, transportation, clothes, and entertainment. Of course, you’re bound to forget something important along the way. When you get back to campus, don’t forget the movies or bar hopping, either.
It all adds up…in more ways than one. Bloomberg Businessweek’s research also shows that the “B-schools where students burn though the most discretionary cash are also the ones that graduate students with the highest starting salaries.” Then again, these schools are also among the highest ranking, with nearly every top 10 school represented on Bloomberg Businessweek’s “Big Spenders” table. In other words, you’re back to the chicken-or-the-egg question: Do students spend more because they know the payout will ultimately come – or do the experiences that these students accrue make them more attractive to deep-pocketed employers?
Despite the allure of getting away or downing a bottle of Dom Perignon, Victor Eng, a Columbia Business School first-year who previously worked at Goldman Sachs, considers the prospect of seeing his bank account dwindle to be “demoralizing.” “There’s something psychologically negative about it,” he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. And the shock is particularly acute for MBAs, older students who were accustomed to having respectable incomes to cover such costs.
So how can spending-conscious students compete with the Goliaths of their school? At Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management, for example, Emily Anderson, the school’s career management center director, organizes networking opportunities for first- and second-year students to mix.
“We really try to get the students engaged with the second-year class first, because that’s zero cost,” she tells U.S. News & World Report. She adds that the school deliberately puts first and second-years with the same interests together.
And such efforts are beneficial to second years, adds Bhavik Trivedi, managing partner of Critical Square, a consulting firm catering to b-school applicants. “If there’s a way for you to do mentorship, or career advisement, or any sort of longer lasting relationship with the people that are coming in the year after you, they’ll obviously view you as a very core part of their network and you kind of get to do the same with them,” he shares with U.S. News.
Alumni are another networking resource to tap. Here, students can get introductions through professors, events, career services, or even alumni speakers. “We try to bring alumni back as much as possible,” Vanderbilt’s Anderson adds.
On their end, students can also be more deliberate in what they choose to do, weighing the benefits and identifying possible alternatives. And one area where this really applies is attending conferences, says Trivedi. He argues that conferences “are far more useful for the people planning them,” remarking to U.S. News that planners are often communicating regularly with speakers and session leaders – the very people with real stroke in their organizations (if not hiring decisions).
Another big idea: Wear school clothing in well-traveled areas like airports, which can spark conversations with potentially influential strangers who may have similar backgrounds or interests. “You want to draw people into conversations as much as possible,” Vanderbilt’s Anderson explains. In doing so, you may just add someone new to your network – if not other names from their network.
For Columbia’s Eng, his biggest break – the one that landed him his internship – came without cost or strings attached. It just required him to be alert. “I was lucky enough to be in the class where my professor invited the head of the company where I currently intern to speak,” he tells Bloomberg Businessweek. “There are lots of ways money isn’t a limiting factor in business school. You just have to be more strategic than others about what you say yes to.”
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