Networking: how it’s changed, how it stays the same

Networking. We all do it, some more successfully than others. While the ultimate goal of networking is fairly standard for all of the participants, the way you meet and build contacts can take on a plethora of forms in your everyday life. It’s far more than just grabbing a drink at happy hour and making polite small talk with acquaintances at an overcrowded bar. 

Reaching out to fellow classmates, attending professional industry events and conferences, or carving out time to talk to professors outside of the classroom can all be effective avenues to make contacts in your sphere. In fact, HubSpot data finds upwards of 85% of jobs are filled through networking. So how has the way we connect evolved over time and what are some of the themes shaping the future of a successful networking pro?

COVID-19 changed the fundamental way we connect.

The pandemic accelerated the shift from in-person to digital events. While some industry players anticipated that the change would be temporary, other visionaries recognized it for what it was: a business landscape tipping point. 

With the busy and demanding schedules that come with business school, digital business networking provides an opportunity to meet other like-minded professionals without commuting to another location to engage. Fred Burke, Director of Graduate Programs at Zicklin School of Business says the virtual experiences have taught students and alumni how to be “high tech and high touch,” which many employers consider an asset. 

To be clear, digital networking isn’t new. Take LinkedIn for example. Did you know that the network turned 19 years old this year? It launched back in 2003, just nine months before Facebook launched at Harvard. As many MBA networking events have replaced some of their traditional professional development activities with shorter online workshops, conferences, or meet and greets it opens up the ability to meet peers who work across a wider geography than would be possible in a physical setting. Don’t discount the potential of these digital rendezvous, as you can make valuable contacts with your business school’s extensive, global network. 

While digital gatherings are changing the game, one-on-ones are here to stay. 

Some larger-scale conferences may remain online for the foreseeable future, but other tried and true networking tactics will never truly be put in the rearview. For example, the value of one-on-one meetings in person cannot be understated. How can you make the most of an in-person meeting, once you set a date? According to Margaret Morford, a management consultant and New York Times contributor, too many people forget that the best professional networks are mutually beneficial.

Morford advises following some basic networking tips:

  • Come prepared with questions or talking points. Don’t expect to have a casual conversation.
  • Meet at a time and place that is convenient for the invited party.
  • Insist on buying his or her coffee or meal. It’s a great way to show your gratitude.
  • Never argue against any advice provided, or ask the contact for information on intellectual property or copyrighted materials.
  • Volunteer for some way you can return the favor.

For what it’s worth, all of the above advice applies to your digital networking strategy, too! A follow-up thank you either via email or in the form of a handwritten note (yes, even in 2022 some still use USPS) will go a long way with the prized contacts you hope to maintain. Initially, it may feel intimidating, but once you take a leap of faith and commit yourself to a networking opportunity, the long-term career benefits can be endless. Some more networking figures: According to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Yale University report, 70 percent of all jobs are found through networking. These jobs are either posted internally or are created specifically for candidates that recruiters meet through networking. LinkedIn research found 70% of professionals hired in 2016 had a connection at their company, and 80% of professionals consider networking vital to their career success. 

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About the author

Author profile

Torri is a mom, creative writer, communications specialist, and professional journalist. She has nearly a decade of experience working in print and TV newsrooms as an on-air reporter and anchor independently researching, writing, interviewing, filming, and editing her own content. Whether she is interviewing the Speaker of the House about hot button issues, or a small student group about a local grassroots campaign, her commitment and focus remain the same: to bring the story she is telling to life. As an amateur watercolorist, she is passionate about the arts, promoting women's empowerment through writing, and investing time in her family.

She lives outside of Manhattan with her husband, baby boy, and rescue dog, Jax.

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