Here at Merchant GMAT & Admissions we see networking as a very important skill that you can use to help you when studying for the GMAT, going through the admissions process, studying for your MBA and then in your journey after your MBA. In fact, we have a whole page totally dedicated to our Network of students that have work with us before who talk about the value of networking. The power of the network is unmatched for furthering your career and opening up doors to your dream job.
The question becomes, how do I network effectively? How do I use the network I’ve created to achieve my goals? How do I ensure that my network isn’t static, but always growing and developing? In this article we will tackle each of these questions, and soon you will be ready to begin forming your own professional network.
Networking is the activity of connecting with others to gather and share information.
Let’s begin with the basics: what is networking? Networking is the activity of connecting with others to gather and share information. At its core, networking is about finding the answers to your questions and satisfying your curiosity, while also returning the favor to others. For some, the prospect of networking can elicit feelings of discomfort or concern about feeling fake. As long as you focus on it being a process of curious exploration, those feelings can be replaced with excitement to build your professional community. Here are two things to keep in mind while networking:
- Networking is a two-way street. Even if you reach out first, and ask the majority of the questions to begin, you should leave the door open for your contact to ask you questions in return. Always come into a conversation ready to contribute value. You may not be able to offer a job, but you can recommend resources that might interest the other person, tell stories that capture their attention, or bond over a common interest. Though we are all different in many ways, a common thread throughout humankind is our love of talking about ourselves. Ask the other person questions specifically about themselves! They will come away from the conversation feeling as though it was extremely productive, just because they got to talk about their favorite subject.
- Networking is NOT about asking for a job. When you connect with someone, keep in mind that the goal should not be to ask for a job or internship. That will make the other person feel as though you are using them, and they will be less likely to want to help you. Instead, genuinely attempt to get to know the other person; try and understand their career path, life story, and interests. A genuine connection will leave the other person much more open to the possibility of helping you in some manner. Then once the bond has been formed, you can mention that you are looking for work in [insert industry here], and voila, you may just land yourself a position. If your contact doesn’t have a position available, they will surely know a friend or colleague who does, and will be more likely to introduce you to them.
Now that you know what the content of networking sessions consists of, let’s explore who to target. Begin by utilizing the network you already have. Yes, you have a network, even if you don’t know it. Think back to all the people you went to school with, were part of a club with, met at a bar, met through a friend, met on the train, or really anyone’s contact information you have. If you can get in touch with them, they are part of your network. It would be awkward to ask your friend for a job, but that’s the beauty of networking. As we said, you wouldn’t be asking for a job, you’d be trying to understand what your friend does professionally, and what kind of opportunities in their field might interest you. Best of all, your friend will be more likely to want to help you out, so they will be willing to sit and talk, and then point you in the right direction. Then after you talk about professional life, you two can go grab a beer together and enjoy each other’s company.
Another approach is to think long and hard about your career aspirations. Write down the industry or industries you want to work in, and then some specific companies you’d be excited to work for. Once you have that information down, go to LinkedIn. Search for the companies’s pages, then navigate to their employees. You can connect with them and send them a short message stating your intentions: you are interested in what they do and would like to know more. Would they be able to talk for 20-30 minutes one day this week? You may also try searching for the industry job titles you would like to attain, and any combination of these keywords. People with those titles should show up, and once you start getting some responses, and schedule times to talk, you’re on your way to developing a fully-fledged network. One further note: don’t be afraid to reach out to workers in junior positions. In fact, they are often your best bet when it comes to networking. They were recently in your shoes, looking to break into the company, so they’re often very willing to help out. Besides, the CEO of a company probably isn’t interested in talking to a young, unknown person. You don’t want to waste their time!
Another networking tactic is to attend public discussions and seminars in your area. Businesses often host events dedicated to discussing their company and networking, and universities often have free speaker events. If you live in a city there will most likely be networking happy hours and group events, which you can source through LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks. Networking doesn’t always have to be one-on-one, it can take place in a larger group. At the end of the day though, it is an individual that will help you, so be sure to connect with individuals at group events, get their contact information, and then follow up with them the next day asking to talk more. Remember to respect people’s time and energy, but it almost never hurts to ask.
At the root of us all, we are all looking to connect to others; that is what makes life so enjoyable and meaningful.
Talking and learning from others is only the beginning. Once you have begun to network, never stop. Networking is a lifelong process that should begin to feel completely natural as you become more comfortable with it. In fact, it becomes fun to connect to other people, learn about them, tell your own story, and bond over shared interests. At the root of us all, we are all looking to connect to others; that is what makes life so enjoyable and meaningful. Networking is the professional realization of that need to connect, and should be thought of as such. As you get older and wiser, younger people will reach out to you to connect, and from there you can pass on your accumulated wisdom and help advise the next generation.