The network you build during business school is one of the top benefits of earning an MBA degree, but you can start that process long before you even apply. An ideal network should include a mix of mentors, colleagues, and people who can connect you to an array of professional opportunities. As an applicant, that network can help as you research schools, and support you throughout your candidacy.
A great way to get started is with a campus visit. The admissions office can put you in contact with like-minded individuals who can help you understand how the school can serve your goals, so start there first. Make a point to meet specific students with whom you already have something in common. If you’re interested in finance, ask for an introduction to the head of the finance club. Find out who runs the women’s association if you’re a female candidate targeting that school.
Nothing compares with hearing first-hand accounts that offer a realistic view of the b-school experience. Have conversations about why they decided to go to business school, why they chose the program they did, the highlights or surprises of their experience, and what they wish they had known when starting this process.
Once you’ve made contact, stay in touch with these people occasionally as you make up your final list of schools. If you’ve laid the groundwork and have already cultivated meaningful relationships with current students, these connections can grease the wheels for your successful MBA application.
If you haven’t already, reconnect with alumni or current students that you already know. Reinvest in those relationships and talk to them about how an MBA degree has enhanced their careers. Ideally, you will tap into your contacts who work in the same industry you hope to upon graduating. These individuals can offer advice based on their own jobs and career paths.
Savvy MBA applicants know that social media can play a role in strengthening your candidacy and network, so keep up with your target MBA programs on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and through school-sponsored student blogs. Business schools want to expand their follower base in order to share school news, application deadlines and admissions events with prospective students, and you can use these online vehicles to learn more about the school and to personally connect.
Friend people who can be your peers – it’s an easy way to stay in touch once you’re admitted and can take all of this social networking one step further. Don’t attempt to friend anyone on the admissions team on Facebook, but do feel free to follow them on Twitter, engage by asking thoughtful questions about the admissions process, and learn all you can from them.
Consider getting on the admissions team’s radar by keeping them apprised of your progress with a tweet. For example, you could write something like: “Submitted my Round 2 application to @Wharton today. Super excited for a chance to participate in the group interview!”
Going to as many business school admissions events as possible will a
lso help bolster your network before you apply. While it can be hard to stand out at these crowded events, sometimes you will have that meaningful conversation that makes a world of difference. Business schools often recruit local alumni to 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.
Try to find two or three people who match up with your experience and goals, and learn how their business school experience transformed them personally or professionally. If you establish a rapport, see if the person would consider speaking with you outside of the event interview over coffee or even email to learn more about how he or she successfully transitioned to their current career.
By talking to alumni, you can get a clearer picture of your fit with a particular program’s culture, and figure out how well the school is positioned to help you succeed. Sometimes, these conversations will prove enlightening by steering you in a different direction from your initial top-choice school.
Finally, a word for those of you who feel extremely uncomfortable with the mere thought of networking: it’s time to change your mind set about this critical career booster. Forget about schmoozing, and remember the goal is not to set a record for the most business cards nabbed at a single event.
When done properly, networking is about cultivating a reciprocal relationship where both parties share knowledge and have mutual respect. Wondering what’s the best way to feel good about professional networking? Whenever possible, aim to give before you get. Become a resource for others: pass on articles that could be helpful, or share employment leads when appropriate. Be willing to put time into building the relationship, and open to discovering new relationships, which may come from the most unlikely of places.
By Sherry Holland, Stacy Blackman Consulting