One of the most common responses a prospective student gives for why they want to pursue an MBA degree: “I want to expand my network.”
As an MBA student, your classmates, professors, recruiters, and the “alumni network” will fit into this category. However, an alumni network is much more complex than a listing of the top earners or C-Suite executives who have graduated from the program in the last 30 years. Alumni are often the biggest advocates for their alma maters and its current students. As such, they should be top of mind for prospective students even before they apply to MBA programs. They should also be considered when looking for summer internships.
At most top MBA programs you have multiple opportunities during the research and application process to engage with alumni, including meeting them during campus visits, events, and admissions interviews. Alumni also are often willing to speak to prospective MBA students who have contacted them through an extended personal network or via a LinkedIn introduction. In these interactions, your goal should be to ask questions and determine whether a specific school is the right cultural and academic fit for you.
At Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, we have small-by-design MBA programs, averaging less than 180 full-time, two-year MBA students per incoming class. Given our size, our active alumni network is a key strength. Many Goizueta MBA alumni return to campus to engage with and interview prospective students or to mentor and hire current students.
Each interaction carries significant weight.
Here are three pieces of advice we give to all students when interacting with alumni.
1. Start with the most recent alumni first. While senior executives have much more influence over the business as a whole, they are often further removed from their MBA experiences. Students may be surprised to learn how little they interact with MBA hiring in comparison to more recent alumni. Often, hiring managers and recruiting teams—especially in investment banking and consulting—are composed of alumni who graduated within the last five to seven years. These alumni remember their MBA experiences as well as the recruiting process in more detail. They can be quite knowledgeable, but also harder to impress. Whether you are researching MBA programs or looking for a summer internship, make sure you are well-prepared to ask smart, insightful questions.
2. Always be polite, punctual, and humble. MBA alumni are extremely busy people regardless of their level at a company. When engaging with them, be flexible in finding a time to schedule a coffee chat or phone call. Always be on time (ideally 15 minutes early when meeting in person), and never forget to send a thank you email within one business day of your meeting or call. This allows you to show gratitude, continue the discussion, and possibly be introduced to other alumni at their firm. Keep in mind many MBA programs leverage alumni insights when evaluating candidates and alumni also have influence over the MBA hiring process. Creating a good first impression when researching MBA programs can lead to an internship or job offer in the future.
3. Focus on building real, value-adding professional relationships with alumni instead of merely making transactional requests. Many MBA prospects and students dread networking; they feel like they are asking a lot from alumni while having very little to give in return. While this may be true at the outset of a new professional relationship, you still provide immense value to alumni. One thing you bring immediately is a fresh perspective. Alumni also recognize bringing in a pipeline of strong talent from their alma mater helps build and strengthen their own reputation at a firm. So, while the alumni-student relationship may seem very one-sided at the outset, over time, there will be numerous opportunities for you to pay it back to alumni with whom you have built a genuine relationship. After all, alumni always need people they can rely on, and recent MBA graduates are often the most eager employees.
Cassy York is an Associate Director in the MBA Career Management Center at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School where she advises students seeking careers in Finance. Prior to Goizueta, Cassy worked for 10 years as a strategist in the emerging technologies space for companies including IBM and AT&T. Cassy earned her MBA from Goizueta Business School and her Bachelor of Arts degree from Berry College.