Schmoozing over cocktails. Rubbing elbows at meet-and-greets. Sharing insights — and business cards — at mixers.
It may be the biggest drawback to remote learning: How do you meet the people you need to know? When the cocktail parties are canceled and the 19th hole is closed, how do you replicate what many see as the most valuable aspect of business school — the networking?
A group of recently graduated MBAs from Warwick Business School in the UK says they have the answer.
“We had the idea that maybe we could do some online networking together as a group, and that we could see if we can capture some of that same energy, the same spirit of networking, and just move it online,” says Damian Manire, Warwick Class of 2020.
MAKING THE MOST OF THE MBA EXPERIENCE
The Warwick MBAs — Manire, Viktoria Tavits, Juan-Pablo Zeballos Raczy, and Aditya Vikram — started a virtual networking group as a solution for the lack of in-person networking during the coronavirus pandemic. Until the health crisis hit in March, they had attended networking events in London, mostly at The Shard, where Warwick has a campus about an hour’s train ride south of its main campus in Coventry. “That was great,” says Manire, an American with a background in consulting. “We had a lot of support from the school in going to networking events with executives and top companies, and we were getting a lot of exposure. Obviously, when the coronavirus started, I think it was such a curveball that no one really knew how long it was going to last, and how impactful it was going to be, and just how locked down we would be.
“One of the things that started becoming apparent over, I would say, the month of March, was that we were going to have to find other ways to network.”
Because the Warwick MBA is an intensive one-year program, time was short.
“I can say that for myself, and I think for many of us, we were going to a lot of the networking events, we were all very active,” Manire says. “I was down at The Shard, which is just about an hour’s train travel from the campus, where we’re situated, I was going down there twice a week to go to events. I was basically doing everything I could because it’s a one-year MBA — you’ve got to take advantage of every opportunity within the time that you have. That’s what you paid for: Get as much exposure as you can.”
That all ended with coronavirus. After the shock wore off, Manire and his colleagues went to work.
EVEN BETTER THAN MEETING IN PERSON?
The Warwick team started with the idea to move networking events online, then grew from there. They developed tools to scout and cultivate contacts and then conduct virtual networking sessions with those contacts.
“Initially, I worked with Juan Pablo and Aditya to develop a methodology for getting people together in groups within the class,” Manire says. “I put out a promotion on our WhatsApp group. Initially, we had about 50 people join and a few calls together to decide: What were the territories we wanted to network in, where did we want to network, what were the kinds of companies we want us to network?”
They divided into teams, with small teams for each territory, and began reaching out to people, using Warwick’s alumni network, which the school boasts is 50,000 strong. They also drew on various social media platforms, casting a wide net to get in touch with potential hiring managers, potential employers, “and also just potential good contacts — people that we were genuinely interested in talking to,” Manire says. He, for example, had been going to finance and consulting events at The Shard and wanted to continue cultivating that network. “So I started to reach out to different people in different territories, working with a few other people that are interested in the parts of Europe that I’m interested in working.”
The responses from alumni and executives soon arrived. The MBAs started setting up Zoom calls to network their way through different companies. Their success prompted them to develop a consultancy, MBA ConneX, to provide workshops to MBAs and MBA programs on how to meaningfully engage in virtual networking. The consultancy “combines the power of social networks with the personal touch of a face-to-face conversation,” according to its website.
Tavits says MBA ConneX will show that virtual networking can be better than the face-to-face kind.
“Some people are quite naturally good at networking and some may be less successful,” she says. “For example, Damian could reach out to 10 people or 20 people and only get one response, whereas somebody else could reach out to 20 people and he or she gets 20 responses. Online, even though we were still making the same efforts, we were getting to see all of those people at the same time, we were getting to connect with the CEO of this company, general manager of another company, for the same amount of effort. We don’t have visa restrictions stopping people from coming to an event.
“For me personally, I believe the virtual networking — because I’ve done it quite a bit — actually works even better than face-to-face networking. People are more inclined to connect and more inclined to spend an hour with you, talk about you, talk about them — and people like to talk about themselves. Some people just jump into straight question about: How can I help? Some just want to talk about themselves, some want to talk about the company. But to be honest, at a networking event somewhere like The Shard, there could be a hundred people and they are all fighting for the attention of one person. And the caliber of people that would be invited into those networking events we had, there were all the usual people. There weren’t, I guess, any new faces coming in. We are able to target the people that we actually want to talk to. We would only have five or six, sometimes four, people on the call, so we were able to really have that conversation and ask the burning questions that we had. Those people were able to tell us the opportunities or their difficulties that they face in the company.”