In Part I of this series, we discussed the importance of developing your network before you apply for your MBA. The networking skills that you’ve developed prior to your MBA application don’t stop once you’ve been accepted, though. In fact, the period between acceptance and enrollment is a critical time for setting yourself up for success during and after your MBA.
It’s no secret that MBA students come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and are equally varied with respect to the depth of their pre-MBA networks. You’ll likely be competing with some of your classmates for job opportunities, and there’s a harsh truth that who you know is sometimes as important as what you know. This is why building a strong network is a must.
The focus this week, then, will be on people, people, and people! The first months in your MBA program will be a whirlwind of managing a very heavy course-load along with a hectic recruiting schedule, so you will want to take every step you can now to strengthen your network. Whether you’ll be exploring on-campus or off-campus recruiting opportunities, your networking will involve encounters with three main groups of individuals: pre-MBA colleagues, predecessors, and industry professionals.
Pre-MBA Colleagues: They Drive You to Be Better
An unavoidable reality of MBA programs is that you will be building close relationships with the same people whom you compete against for highly-valued internships and full-time employment. If this environment wasn’t part of your pre-MBA experience, you need to prepare for it now. That being said, competition can be a great way to learn and grow. Some tension is unavoidable but it can be managed, and you will rely upon your MBA colleagues as they will rely upon you. After all, the quality of an MBA program is only as good as the people involved.
With this in mind, it’s best you begin networking with people in similar positions to you before you enter the MBA program. Whether you’re hoping to switch careers or to advance your existing one, networking with your pre-MBA colleagues will help you gain perspective on where your life may be heading. Each MBA class is different because the business world is a dynamic place. Networking with your pre-MBA colleagues can help you keep a pulse on the business environment while also serving as a platform for you to share your knowledge and insights. Remember, networking is about relationships: you need to put in as much as you hope to get out. Don’t be a networking parasite.
While networking with your future classmates can help you focus your career interests, it’s also just a great way to meet future friends and colleagues. You will be spending a lot of time with these people over the next few years, so why not get to know them sooner rather than later. Take advantage of all the networking opportunities that arise and keep a long-term strategic vision in mind. Before I began my MBA, I had considered management consulting but I didn’t know what that entailed. Many of the larger firms host information and networking events where you can network with incoming MBAs who have similar career interests—this can help you understand the industry and it’s also a great way to meet new people in similar situations. Poets&Quants is hosting a broader networking event at the beginning of May—this is a great opportunity for you to network with pre-MBA colleagues and professionals across multiple industries. Keep an open mind about future career paths since you never know what might spark your interest.
Predecessors: Learning from the Past
While networking with your contemporaries will be critically important, don’t lose sight of those who have been there before: current and recent MBA graduates. These individuals are a wealth of knowledge related to both MBA academics and the strategy of career recruiting. Since recruiting will more or less begin on Day 1 of your MBA, connecting with those who have recently gone through the process is invaluable.
If you don’t know where to begin, search your existing network to see if there are any appropriate connections to be made and also leverage the MBA program you’re about to enroll in. When you are networking with these individuals, the conversation will likely be fairly casual, but be sure to identify a few objectives and have a clear self-narrative of where you’ve been and what you’re considering post-MBA to help them understand you better.
Speaking frankly, this is something I didn’t do as well pre-MBA. For instance, I didn’t know anybody from the investment banking world pre-MBA. Since investment banking recruiting begins so early and I didn’t do much pre-MBA networking with current and recent graduates to understand it better, I felt like I had started at a disadvantage. Even if you aren’t interested in banking, the same principle applies to most if not all industries, regardless of whether you’re looking at on-campus or off-campus recruiting. Your predecessors can help you better understand the opportunities ahead of you, because they were once in your shoes.
Career Professionals: Laying the Foundation for Your Career
After starting your MBA, you will try to differentiate yourself from hundreds of classmates for a limited audience at recruiting events. While you can always ask general questions about these individuals’ experiences, it’s even more impressive if you have done your homework beforehand and can ask more informed questions.
This is where pre-MBA networking with career professionals comes in. You can look at these individuals as a resource for information generally about careers post-MBA, for information specifically about careers in a particular industry, and even as a potential post-MBA employer. In any case, this part of your network can help educate you about your career options in ways that can shape your focus as well as provide some very unique insights that will help set you apart from the crowd.
Industry professionals are very busy people, but you’ll find that if you’re respectful of their time and are genuinely interested, many of them will do what they can to make even a narrow window available to you. However, keep in mind that while networking with these individuals can yield significant rewards, it also comes with increased risk if you’re sloppy with your networking. Don’t put yourself in a position where they may not like you afterwards, especially if you don’t know them very well. These individuals are well advanced in their careers with extensive professional networks—just as they may open opportunities to you, they can also close the door on them. Be mindful of your personal and professional reputation at every networking event and encounter, especially when interacting with senior industry professionals.
As MBA programs increasingly emphasize the importance of pre-MBA recruiting events, it behooves you to take pre-MBA networking opportunities very seriously. Just as you learned when applying for your MBA, your MBA path started long before you ever began assembling your application. Think of your MBA career and the need to network in a similar way.
Stay tuned as we conclude our Network to Net Worth series in Part III.