We have established that MBA networking should begin well before business school and that some schools have better networking than others. What we haven’t really covered yet, are the nuts and bolts of networking and how you go about doing it effectively. Below is a baker’s dozen tips for building a network which will pay dividends as you apply to business school, as you attend business school and as you dive into your post MBA career…
1) Don’t wait until business school to start networking. I know this has already been said, but it’s the most important thing to do, so it warrants the number one slot.
2) Don’t think that MBA networking means only networking with MBAs. There are millions of successful business people out there who not only don’t have an MBA, but who may not even have a college degree.
3) Become friends with Linked In---good friends. In case you haven’t noticed, Linked In has become a vital component of relevance in the modern business world. It’s a great tool for both connecting and for gathering useful information about the current landscape in business. If you don’t have 500+ connections, you’re not trying hard enough.
4) Clean up your social media profile. If you didn’t already know it, employers look at your facebook page and read your tweets. There’s nothing more unprofessional than to have a public social media presence which flies in the face of what’s considered acceptable workplace behavior. If you must misbehave on social media, do so on Snapchat where it’ not permanently preserved for all to see.
5) Reach out to people you don’t know, but whom you feel might provide you with information or contacts which could help you. Cold-contacting people with the reason you are a “prospective MBA student interested in their area or industry” can often be the secret password to opening the door to a professional connection.
6) Return phone calls and emails within 24 hours. This is a habit which will serve you well your whole career. Promptly responding to inquiries from others will build the kind of good networking habits which turn mediocre connectors into super-conductor networkers. Being perceived as dependable and responsive is a valued trait.
7) Set goals and stick to them. If you don’t make yourself call or reach out to a set number of people each week or each month, your networking strategy will become random or haphazard. Treat making new connections like you treat your workout regimen or diet. Steady and consistent yields results.
8) Know what you want out of each meeting, and don’t leave until you get it. While there is no need to communicate your agenda to your contact, you should know why you are meeting with the person and what you hope to achieve from the connection. So you are not perceived as a taker only, it’s never a bad idea to ask if there is anything you can do to help them as well.
9) Research your connection before you show up for a networking meeting. People like to talk about themselves in qualitative matters, but asking them factual questions which could have been discovered from casual research or from their company bio makes you look unprepared.
10) Try to meet in person. The digital driven world in which we live makes it tempting to establish and maintain professional connections over the web, but you will find that connecting in person establishes a much deeper foundation for a relationship which will last much longer. Remember the famous Professor Mehrabian? He was the one who famously insisted that communication is only 7 percent verbal and 93 percent non-verbal. The non-verbal component, which he said is made up of body language (55 percent) and tone of voice (38 percent) is impossible to pass along in an email.
11) Don’t leave without asking for another person you should connect with. Networking is exponential. You will be blown away with how many connections you can make by asking this simple question before you leave a meeting.
12) Take notes. Not only does taking notes help you remember what was said, it also communicates to the other person that you care about what is being said and it makes them feel important.
13) Make the other person feel important. This is a key mantra in Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People,” the still-in-print self-help book for, well, making friends and influencing people. It’s a must read if you haven’t already done so.