Networking. It’s the name of the MBA game and during a typical two year MBA program, the word will be thrown around so many times you’ll start to think it may actually be more important than finals. The truth is, making meaningful professional connections can create as much value for you as your degree, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. Here are some tips on developing your soft skills and networking effectively:
- It is quality that counts.
Don’t go to every event, every speaker, and every dinner only to hand out your calling card to every person that glances in your general direction. Don’t follow quantity theory and hope that with all the cards you pass out, someone is bound to call you (this also applies to résumés). It’s a time waster for both parties and your potential professional contacts, professors, and classmates will sense your insincerity.
- Stop. Texting. Get out there!
Close your laptop, shut off your smart phone, and be present. Scrolling through your Twitter feed on your phone is a great way to meet no one. You’re unapproachable and appear uninterested, and you certainly aren’t focused on what the interesting person you just met has to say.
- Go to the events that interest you and you are passionate about.
No interest in the railroad industry? Don’t attend the lecture for Norfolk Southern Rail. Love economics? Join the Econ Club. You’ll have more to talk about with the people whose interests are similar to yours and lay the foundation for a long term professional connection.
- Build the relationship.
Plenty of new businesses start as a result of a current professional connection. Relationships convey trust and mutual respect, and that doesn’t come overnight. Engage in meaningful conversation, and leave the conversation with something positive.
- Help others and become a resource.
A little bit of knowledge and charity goes a long way; if you can volunteer for an organization, do it. A person that is selfless and sought for advice is always a valued member of your professional circle.
- Find a mentor (and don’t ignore their advice).
The beauty of networking is that you can be introduced to someone that you emulate, someone that is already doing what you want to do with your life. Once you find that person, ask questions, get feedback, and don’t be afraid of constructive criticism.
- Know your 30-second pitch.
Although you probably won’t deliver it in an elevator, you should know who you are, what you do, and what you can do for others. Be clear and articulate – this is your first impression and you want it to be good.
- Always follow up.
If you’re given a referral, a question that you needed time to answer, or anything else, follow up and do it promptly. Even if you can’t get what you need to the person right away, send a note to let them know you’re working on it. It’ll keep you engaged with that person and let them know you can be counted on.
What strategies have you used for successful networking?
Rachel Millios is an MBA and aspiring corporate magnate in Watertown, NY. Follow her blog and on Twitter, or send her an email: email@example.com.