One of the best payoffs for attending a good MBA program is the instant network you receive around the world through all the living alumni from your school. You not only obtain access to alumni from the b-school, but also to undergraduate alumni as well. This network can benefit you well beyond landing your first job or two, and will pay dividends throughout your entire career.
The MBA network, however, is much broader than just the school where you attend. What you should never do, therefore, is to wait until you matriculate to begin building that career-building network. Even during application time, the fact you are an MBA hopeful can begin opening doors that once were closed, or at least difficult, to enter.
The mistake most b-school hopefuls make is to assume that you cannot crack the b-school network ahead of time.
Some of the most successful networkers out there look at every stage of life as a chance to reach out and connect, and being a student or a prospective student affords one a very unique window of opportunity to do this. How? Sometimes it’s as easy as picking up the phone and calling or sending an email. Most often, you will be first reaching someone’s “person” on the line or in an electronic response, which is where a little charm and honesty can be disarming. Start by simply asking to speak with your target contact---you might be surprised in how many cases you will be put through. If the dreaded “what is this concerning?” question is posed, be honest. Tell them you are a prospective MBA student who is looking to speak for just a few minutes to Mr. or Ms. X about their experience in Y company.
Despite all your efforts to finesse your way in, the gatekeepers might still take a message, but be sure to follow up if you don’t hear back, since the squeaky wheel gets the proverbial grease.
If you are lucky, you might just be introduced. If you are, make sure you thank them up front for taking your call and that you will be brief. Then be brief. This is where a 15 second elevator pitch is handy. Make sure you tell them where you are applying to b-school and that you are interested in their industry or business. It can be endearing to admit to them you are exploring your options for post-MBA and with only one internship shot, you are doing “informational interviews” to gather intelligence so you can make the best decision. It is recommended you only talk to them for 10 minutes or so if it’s on the phone, and keep emails to just three or four sentences. Asking for help is an easy way to make it difficult for someone to say no to your outreach. Most successful people like to help others, as long as they feel the investment of time is not too great. Always try to end with a solicitation to meet in person for lunch or breakfast if you can---in person meetings are always best for building a solid network. Just a note about breakfast—if you can stomach rising early, you will find many more opportunities to connect, since busy, successful people generally start their days early and often have more flexible time then.
As you get to know new people, always ask them “who else should I get to know if I am interested in X industry?” which will generally result in a referral, the golden goose of networking.
A warm lead rarely rebuffs and due to the magic of compounding, you could find just one or two good connections can result in an avalanche of meeting opportunities. If you play your cards right and manage your time well, you will embark upon b-school with a great starter kit of contacts in your toolkit, whether or not they graduated from your school of choice.