The Best MBA Alumni Networks

A networking event at Alumni Orientation inside the Ross School of Business.


Such programming sounds impressive in theory, but how does it work in the real world? According to DeRue’s data, a third of MBA hiring happens outside on-campus recruiting channels. To increase students’ odds of landing jobs with these outliers, his staff works closely with alumni. Last year, for example, DeRue remembers a student who decided to pivot into the media and entertainment. The school quickly tapped into its Southern California alumni community. Through the Alumni-In-Residence program, the student was able to gain in-depth knowledge about the industry. At the same time, West Coast alumni worked their rolodexes, introducing her to several connections at companies that fit her interests. In the end, the student landed a job in the field – and will be returning the favor to a future Ross MBA soon enough.

For DeRue, this example illustrates how critical alumni have become to breaking into firms that eschew on-campus recruiting. “You’re now not just showing up to a cocktail reception and trading business cards; you’re getting to know people and their journeys in deep and meaningful ways. This is opening up a whole range of opportunities for students that didn’t exist a decade ago.”

August 19, 2019; MBA Orientation picnic (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

At Mendoza, every first-year MBA is required to complete a mock interview with a member of its corporate advisory board, which John Rooney estimates to “80% of our alumni.” In addition, alumni consciously return in the fall to conduct interview prep in conjunction with the clubs, particularly in investment banking and consulting. That’s just the start of how alumni take care of their own.


“One of the things that was really successful last year is we had happy hours in Chicago with all of our alumni working in consulting. The Consulting Club hosted it – and it was kind of an informal event – but it was very successful because a lot of students were able to meet with some alums working in consulting in Chicago and get interviews and jobs as a result of that.”

For Tim Ponisciak, the Notre Dame difference was symbolized by a recent Alumni Club gathering in Philadelphia. After the event closed, a Mendoza student spied an alum talking about all the work she had to finish that night. She wasn’t talking about her job, the student told Ponisciak. Instead, she was getting ready to make follow-ups from the reception so she could introduce students to her network.

“The student was just struck that this alum was going to take all this extra time outside of the actual two hours of networking to help make those connections for her fellow alumni,” Ponisciak says. I thought that was just a great story that shows that it’s more than just getting together and having conversations, but then following up and really helping to strengthen that network.”


Of course, this isn’t a one-way relationship where alumni provide support and receive only gratitude in return. At Michigan Ross, alumni receive career and professional development for life, enhancing the degree’s value as time passes. For Dean DeRue, this change is grounded in how the world of work has shifted. “The half-life of skills is 2-5 years, which means people – no matter what your job or industry – have to re-tool constantly. People are changing jobs, industries, and careers more frequently than they ever have before.”

This shift places more on Ross’ plate but also carves out new opportunities to keep alumni engaged with the school. Notably, Ross now offers tuition-free access to the school’s executive education portfolio, with no limits on the number of courses that alumni can take. This benefit is just the tip of the iceberg, DeRue adds.

“We also have career coaches on staff. We have one career coach on staff, for example, and she does approximately 500 career coaching conversations with alumni per year. It’s at no charge. Our responsibility is to provide the same level of career coaching and professional development for alumni, whether it be through education or direct career coaching. Our alumni continue to have free access to our library resources and online initiatives. So we are creating this life-long investment in students and alumni that I think has the potential to really transform the relationship between students, alumni, and their business school in really profound ways. We don’t just view MBAs as a two-year stop along a long career. We view this as a life-long partnership.”


Students in the Ross School of Business Winter Garden

Mendoza takes a different tact. Since mission brings many MBAs to South Bend, the school keeps alumni involved through ND Impact Partners, a pro bono consulting firm. Started in 2014 and comprised exclusively of alumni, the service enables graduates to stay connected to the college’s values.

“We partner with local nonprofits in Chicago, DC, and South Bend and have strategic projects with a number of nonprofits in each of those cities” says Tim Ponisciak. “Then we have teams of alumni who will work on those projects over the course of four months each year. For students who are moving to one of those three cities, that’s a great way to continue to be a part and to live out that mission.”

At Michigan, the scope of alumni support extends well beyond the Ross School of Business. MBA Alumni can also tap into the various colleges across campus or degree programs at Ross. “I just had a request from an undergraduate student traveling in China who was studying abroad,” adds Wendy Correll. “She wanted to be connected with alumni. We talked to our club leaders, who happened to be MBAs, and they were able to put her in touch with five people. The Go Blue piece of this, which is the broader Michigan brand, plays an important part here.”


That brand, says Dean DeRue, has made collaboration its cornerstone. This value is instilled early – and reinforced, in many ways, by alumni who set the tone by returning to campus to partner with and support future graduates.

“Because we create that collaborative environment and sense of community while our students are here when they become alumni, they take that culture with them,” DeRue explains. “They want to then come back and maintain that sense of community and the connectedness with the institution. For me, at least, the big aha was, if you wait until they are alumni to create that high engagement, you missed a big opportunity.”

MBA orientation at the Mendoza College; August 21, 2019; (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

John Rooney would use a different term to describe Mendoza alumni: proactive. That stems, in his experience, from empathy. They remember the hurdles involved in landing a job during school. As a result, many volunteer to serve as a resource without even being prompted by the school.


“I think a good example of that was back in 2008 when there was a downturn,” Rooney recalls. “You saw a lot of alums reaching out to fellow alums and current students and being supportive, knowing that it was a tough job market. So, I think when there are a few rallying times when the Notre Dame network really comes through.”

That’s a testament to Mendoza’s culture, an “all-in-this-together” ethos that binds students beyond background, location, or graduation year. “Alumni of Notre Dame are so open and so willing to share about their experience,” Tim Ponisciak observes. “Probably almost everyone who goes to school here for a graduate degree has already talked to an alum who has shared some sort of unique story about their time at Notre Dame. It makes those students a lot more likely to share their experiences after they graduate.

Even more, the Notre Dame community is an all-encompassing global network, says Ponisciak, one with a potent Alumni Association and active club network. In fact, the network extends beyond alumni to include parents and friends of the university. That imprints the school’s identity even deeper on alumni.

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