Networking is one of the most important parts of the MBA job search. In fact, it’s estimated that over 70% of jobs are found through networking, not through postings! While the degree of networking varies some by company and industry, effectively getting the word out about yourself and actively listening and asking questions to find a good two-way fit are key to landing the right job. Whether you’re primarily looking for jobs through your school’s on campus resources or conducting a more self-directed search, networking will be an important part of your effort.
Another thing to remember is networking is a skill that will serve you well in your entire career, not just the few months you’re recruiting at business school. Think of learning how to network effectively as an extracurricular class; one you’ll likely use throughout your whole career, no matter what industry you end up in.
The key components of effective networking are:
- Formulating a target list of companies and individuals within the company
- Getting the meeting or call
- Preparing for the conversation
- Executing the meeting or call
- Following Up
1) Formulating a target list of companies and individuals within the company
We’ve covered the basic aspects of this in previous sections, and this is where your self-assessment and company research come together. You’ll want to prioritize your networking with companies that are hiring for roles that you will be the best fit for. Having a list of top three or four companies you’re interested in allows you to do more in-depth research on their culture, their structure, and what they look for in candidates. You should also consider timing when choosing your top targets: are they coming to interview before anyone else? Is their process especially competitive, and therefore you need to get in front of them early on?
2) Getting the meeting or call
In some cases you’ll meet people at conferences, company briefings, or other school events and will want to follow-up with them later. In others it will be up to you to track down people to talk to, often school alumni or referrals from others you know in the company. Either way, you’ll need to set up a phone call or in-person meeting.
You want to be polite, interested, and direct when reaching out. Don’t send a four paragraph email and a copy of your resume when reaching out initially. A short two or three sentence introduction about who you are, how you found them (LinkedIn, mutual connection, alumni list, etc.), and why you’re interested in talking to them will suffice. No need to say at this point that you want to work there- they know that! Your goal with initial outreach is to get a call or meeting set up. That’s it.
Here’s a sample email to illustrate the right approach:
SUBJECT: School X MBA student introduction
After four years working in the manufacturing industry I am now getting my MBA at School X to make a transition to consulting. In talking to Susie Student, a second year student here, she suggested I reach out to you to learn more about making the transition into consulting, given that you have worked with a number of manufacturing clients in your time at Bain.
In my three years at Whirlpool I did process optimization, led three direct reports in supply chain management, and oversaw an accounting system overhaul for the refrigerator division. I enjoyed working across functions to quickly get at the heart of business problems, and am interested in consulting as a way to build on that experience while gaining new industry knowledge.
I would appreciate the chance to learn more about your background since graduating from School X and also to get your thoughts on consulting at Bain. Would you have time for a brief phone call Monday or Wednesday afternoon next week?
Mark Brian Adams
3) Preparing for the conversation
Now that you’ve scheduled a meeting or call, it’s time to make sure you nail it. You want to have a goal for every meeting, whether it’s to learn the answer to a specific question, figure out who the hiring manager is, or get another introduction to continue networking at the company. Do your research on the person’s background to find ways to build rapport and connect. Do you both like to play tennis? Did her daughter go to the same college you did? Have you both worked in a similar industry? That personal connection can set the tone for a warm and effective conversation, and help calm your nerves if you’re anxious about the conversation.
4) Executing the meeting or call
To start the conversation, have an agenda in mind and get their buy-in. For example, you might say, “John, thank you for your time today. I won’t take more than 15 minutes. I would like to tell you about myself and why I’m interested in Bain, to learn more about your career path, and to see if there’s anyone else you recommend I talk to based on my background and interests. Does that sound ok to you? Great, then first I’d like to introduce myself…”
Have your story ready to go, tailored to the person you’re talking to. Have some questions prepared in advance, but don’t just follow a script. Listen actively to pick up on cues they might give you and try to find ways you can show value during the conversation. While it can be stressful to talk to important people you don’t know well (not to mention who might have the power to shape your future), you want to keep it conversational yet professional.
As you wrap up the meeting, lay out some next steps. Maybe you want to explore some further topics with this person and therefore will ask for more time to follow-up later. If they mentioned some co-workers of theirs you should connect with ask for introductions to them. It’s ok if there’s not a concrete next step, too. In that case, thank them for their time and reiterate why you’re interested in the company, incorporating any new information you’ve learned in the meeting.
5) Following Up
After the meeting or call, make sure to send a thank you email or note reiterating your appreciation for their time and effort, and also to remind them of anything important that came up in the conversation you want to make sure they remember. If there is a follow-up, you should include that in your note, too.
Effective networking comes with practice. Start out by practicing calls with your classmates or second year students who went through recruiting last year. You can get feedback in that low-stakes environment that will help you build confidence and effectiveness for your real conversations later.
General Networking Tips
- Effective networking is not transactional, but relational and based on credibility. Remember that networking is not about checking boxes or making a set number of phone calls. While you might hear that certain industries have “standard” numbers of meetings or calls, if you treat it as transactional you’ll lose sight of building rich relationships and getting valuable information. Don’t limit yourself to finding new contacts, but also stay in touch with former coworkers and friends who can help you in the process.
- Make it easy for the person you’re talking with to help you. By showing your value and doing preparation up front you come across as more credible when asking for advice, connections, or help.
- Practice! You’ll get more and more comfortable with networking as you practice and improve telling your value proposition. Remember that it’s about building long-term relationships.
- Follow up. Try to close every call or meeting with a next step. If you come across an article or piece of news that is relevant to someone you have talked to, send it to them as a way to stay top of mind and show your continued interest in the industry or field. As you hit certain milestones check back in as appropriate.
Briefings and Events
Company events and company briefings are opportunities for a specific type of networking, and you need to be prepared because they take place frequently throughout the recruiting season. Whether you’re at a job fair, a company event at your school, or an off-site invitation-only event you’ll want to take full advantage of the chance to make a good impression.
Let’s use a hypothetical example to illustrate some do’s and dont’s of event networking. Say you are attending a company briefing for a highly sought after technology company at your school. They have sent the campus recruiter and four alumni back to talk about the company and the roles they hire for. After sitting through a 45 minute presentation, you have the chance to make your way down to the front to introduce yourself.
You probably won’t be the only one trying to get their attention. Be prepared for several of your classmates to be crowding around one or two alumni. That’s ok, and it’s a common occurrence. You’ll want to gracefully move into the conversation, looking for a chance to insert yourself without pushing anyone aside. Don’t interrupt anyone who’s speaking, but wait for a break in the conversation to introduce yourself. If the person you want to talk to makes eye contact and asks you to introduce yourself, be prepared with the short version of your story. Try to keep your introduction short so you don’t monopolize their time while other students are waiting to speak. If you have the chance to ask a question, make sure it’s not a basic one (like “What does your company do?”) and unless there aren’t a lot of people waiting around, try to limit yourself to one questions.
Don’t take up too much time or space with the company representative, but let your classmates move into the conversation. Once you have gotten a chance to introduce yourself and learned some more about the role or the company, thank the company representative and make your exit. It’s fine to ask for their business card or if you can follow-up with them afterwards. You should then send a short email thanking them for their time and reminding them about who you are by referring back to an aspect of your introductory story.
If you want to set up more networking calls or emails, this can be a good starting place. It’s also a good idea to set up a tracking system; spreadsheets are probably the most popular tool used by MBAs, but you can also use your CRM Dashboard on Relish to manage and track your networking interactions digitally.
While this is a specific example of a situation you may find yourself in, it could play out in a similar way at a job fair, conference, networking event, or company dinner. Use basic good manners and be prepared to effectively use the short time you have and you will make a good impression and set yourself up for future, more in-depth, conversations.