Networking at MBA conferences
As an international MBA candidate studying in Madrid, attending conferences across Spain and Europe is not uncommon. Almost every week, our inboxes are flooded with interesting conferences, summits, roundtables and case competitions. In fact, as I write this, I’m aware that we have the Africa Business Forum and the biggest student-led tech conference this week, and the annual Social Responsibility Forum and Spring Talent Forum next week – and that’s not including the multitude of other smaller seminars and talks happening every day.
These conferences present a great opportunity for MBAs to network face-to-face and hopefully represent a step towards that dream job. As an MBA, I try to attend every event I possibly can (FOMO being ever-present within our cohort) and over the past 8 months have amassed tips to make the most of networking.
Get involved beyond a regular attendee
Instead of simply registering for an event and showing up on the day, get involved before and after, either on the planning committee or as an on-the-day volunteer. If it’s a professional or industry conference held outside the university, you can usually sign up to be a student volunteer and attend the conference for free. Whichever option you choose, this will enable you to forge more valuable connections with planning staff, VIP guests and speakers. Through planning our inaugural TechIE conference, I was able to contact experts via LinkedIn and invite them to speak at the conference. Through these interactions, I not only had the opportunity to understand their business better but also established personal connections.
Know what you want
All too often, students arrive woefully underprepared for networking at MBA conferences and end up making aimless small talk or aggressively pitching themselves to companies. I’ve observed that most students who network well understand if a conference is the right fit for their post-MBA goals – attending a SaaS conference is perfect for someone who wants to work for a cloud business in the future, for instance. At the same time, they are not limiting themselves, for instance by paying attention to the digital health aspects of a SaaS conference if they want to work in healthcare.
Research before you go
Networking is only as good as the type of conversations you will have, so research speakers, notable attendees and session topics before you go. Successful networkers often send LinkedIn InMails to speakers to arrange a time to meet – but this too, is an art. Emphasising learning about their industry and business or gathering a quote for an interview for the school blog is more likely to get you a reply rather than a straight-up meeting request.
Go early & be open
Arrive 10-15 minutes before the conference start so you can start networking at the welcome coffee. If you’re going with friends, don’t stand in a tight, closed-off group but leave space for 1-2 people to join you. Striking up conversation at conference booths is a good idea if you’re not too keen on introducing yourself to other groups.
Have a casual elevator pitch ready
Most networking seminars tell you to have an elevator pitch ready, and they’re not wrong, but it’s best if it comes across natural rather than “Hi my name is Sally, I’m an MBA student specialising in entrepreneurship and tech and I’ve worked in consulting over the last five years but now want to pivot to strategy…” all in the same breath. Pick out the top 3 things you want to convey about yourself and weave it into questions you want to ask the person you’re talking to. Insert pauses to let the other person respond as well.
Have talking points
After introducing yourself, there ‘s nothing worse than awkward silence. Mentally prepare some talking points that apply to your top 3 target companies as well as more general ones that are industry specific. Some ideas include: “I’ve heard your company is doing XYZ in the XYZ sector, could you tell me more about that?” or “What are your thoughts on XYZ trends in this industry?”
Connect & follow up
Finally, after your great conversation, remember to exchange business cards or connect on LinkedIn. I often follow up with an email or LinkedIn message reminding them of our meeting with a call to action, whether that’s arranging to meet for coffee the next time they’re in town, a question they need to get back to you on, or a relevant news article.
What are your top tips for networking at MBA conferences? Do you show up with a game plan or do you find yourself winging it? Come tell us! Would love to know how networking has helped you pursue your academic and career goals.
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