Harvard Business School Networking: Toxic Or Vital?

Harvard Business School Networking: Toxic Or Vital

For many, the biggest value of an MBA is not the education itself but rather the network. Networking has long been synonymous with the B-school experience. And science has clearly shown that networking has a positive influence on career advancement. But is there such thing as too much networking and can the culture of networking become toxic?

That’s something that Manuel A. Yepes, a class of 2024 student at Harvard University and editorial editor of The Harvard Crimson, explores in his latest piece.

“In my conversations with HBS students, I got the sense that the school operates more as an effective party host than as a teacher,” Yepes says. “You might read that with disdain. Yet I came away thinking that HBS has crucial lessons to offer on how we might deal with the networking culture present at our own college.”

IT CAN FEEL ‘TRANSACTIONAL’

At HBS, networking is engrained into the culture. And for many students, it’s the reason why they chose HBS as their top B-school.

“I didn’t particularly gain a lot from finance and accounting classes,” Carter W. Lewis, an MBA candidate at HBS, tells The Crimson. “For me, the benefit is definitely more so in the network of people, and taking advantage of opportunities to travel with new friends.”

But some students say the networking culture can, at times, feel phony and all-consuming.

“There are times where I’ll be meeting someone and it becomes clear very quickly that I am not somebody, my parents are not somebody, so there’s not all that much they can gain from me,” Celia A. Stafford, a PhD candidate at HBS, tells The Crimson.

Referring to the MBA ecosystem, Stafford says “the entire point is networking, and so it can become very transactional a lot of the time.”

Many students are well aware of the potential drawbacks of networking culture. But they also know that networking is in many ways a necessity in B-school.

“I don’t dislike it, because I think I understand it,” Stafford says. “It’s worth it for the networking opportunities, and the job, and the education, and it’s an incredible place to be. Really, truly, I feel so unbelievably blessed. But I do think there’s a little bit of a, ‘Okay, if it’s a necessary evil, this helps me achieve my goals.’ So I’m willing to be exhausted for two years.”

THE VALUE OF THE HARVARD NAME

A Harvard degree is more than just a license for business education. It’s also a membership into what Yepes calls an “elite social network.”

“This [networking] process has gone on so long that even those who never made an effort to network will still be granted membership to this exclusive club by virtue of graduating with a degree from HBS,” Yepes says.

And this exclusive club has exclusive benefits.

“There is definitely an HBS bond that you will always be connected to whomever,” Stafford says. “If I needed it, I would be able to call them and be like, ‘Hey, I graduated from HBS with you, remember when you came to my Whiskey, Bourbon, and Spirits Society event? I need a job.’”

Networking, in and of itself, isn’t inherently a bad thing. Rather, Yepes argues, it’s the idea of exclusivity that can breed inequality and toxic culture. If this club is going to exist, he adds, Harvard needs to make some effort to ensure that its grads contribute to the public good.

“I think there’s a way to embrace this networking culture and the post-graduate benefits it brings while still grappling with important social justice issues,” Yepes says. “This means questioning our assumptions and critically examining vestiges of unjust exclusivity, so that everyone has the fair opportunity to access these social ecosystems. Only in doing so can we justify the existence of the Harvard club.”

Sources: The Harvard Crimson, Harvard Business Review

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