Networking for MBAs

Welcome to the MBA talk Podcast, where we talk everything about career progression for MBAs. I’m joined today by Orestes Peristeris, Optness professor and employee at a consulting company.

In this episode, we will talk about networking. Research indicates that up to 85% of positions are filled through networking. One of the key reasons for joining a global MBA class is to have access to World Class networking opportunities.

So we will talk about where networking can happen. 

  • Who can you network with? 
  • How to network effectively?
  • And things to pay attention when networking.

This episode is part of the consulting series where we dive into how to get into consulting. However, this episode is still applicable for MBAs going into any industry. This show is brought to you by Optness Institute. At Optness we teach advanced management methodologies like Lean Six Sigma, Agile, Data Visualization, and more for MBAs.

Let’s get into the show.

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Episode Notes

Networking is a Key Activity in the Life of an MBA

We are back again to MBA talk with Orestes Peristeris. And today we are going to talk about networking.

Orestes, for the audience we plan beforehand all the episodes. So we make a list of bullet points of the things we cover in each episode. But I’m going to put you on the spot right now. Because for this episode, which is very interesting about networking, we were talking already about networking and personal experiences. I think it would be very interesting to start with a personal experience about networking.

How you did wrong at the first time and how you evolved to get it right?

 [01:53] Yeah, that’s a nice addition, Andrés. So yeah, I can share an experience. So when I first I’m gonna first join the MBA program at HEC Paris. When I first started there, I still very much had the experience where I’ve been working before.

So I studied and worked in South Africa, before. And there the recruiting process was very traditional. So, normally students were applying to companies, getting an interview, and then getting a job offer and joining the company. So actually, there was no networking involved when I was in university at all.

And so when I came to HEC, to the MBA. I already had some context that I started to get through events or through LinkedIn and meeting people. But my approach was still very much about wanting to apply for a position, and I’m interested in a role.

And actually, then at that stage, I was speaking to a McKinsey partner in Paris, and we’re exchanging some messages. This was through a reference that I had, and she made the suggestion that we should meet up for coffee in Paris. And at the time, I never actually took her up on this offer.

Because for me it felt quite unusual. I didn’t see the value of it. I didn’t see how it fit into the recruiting process because I’m already an MBA at HEC, I have a CV. I have everything prepared so I can apply for the job. And then I should get an interview after that.

And that was already, I think, quite interesting on the first, a kind of a missed opportunity, right in the beginning. Would have been a great networking situation. And, yeah, it just didn’t feel. It wasn’t something I was used to. It wasn’t something I never knew about.

So this is one example I can give of a kind of a little missed opportunity. I guess the learning there for people is when you come into a new region or a new country where the MBA is being done. Is good to get to know also what are the norms of networking, of how business culture is working, how people are networking, meeting each other, how people are being evaluated for roles.

Because this can be quite different from your home country or your culture that you come from. Where some people might see it as, okay, this is not official. Everyone should be applying for the company, and then they make a decision. But, in many regions, especially in Europe, it’s not the case, at all.

In terms of a good experience with networking, I can say I had a very nice experience when I joined the track in Paris. So this was the Retail & Luxury Club arranged by the track in Paris, two different luxury goods companies, and also a skincare company. So at the skincare company, and it was very interesting to be there and get to know the product. And also to test some of the products, which was quite interesting for me, to do that. And then I also got to know the people that were working there.

And we got to meet the CEO, and  have to get to know the product, get to know the company, meet the key people. But then also, to know them and to see, okay, maybe this is actually a potential opportunity as a job. Actually I did stay in touch with them after that. And, we were still in contact, and it was kind of one of my options that are considered for doing an internship in my MBA in Paris with this company. So,  that was a much more nice and more positive experience, I can say. And it definitely opened the doors for sure.

Developing Your Networking Skills

How did an MBA become good at networking?

Would you say there was a click moment for you to get networking or was a step by step something that you evolved from arriving at MBA school, and then you get better with practice?

[06:04] Yeah, I think, for me, it was a click in the sense that through the Career Center and through the MBA. And just the culture of the school and the companies, that networking, discussing roles and opportunities was kind of the culture. And it was something accepted practice that people were doing.

So once I realized, okay, this is the way that things are working. Then it was like, Okay, this is quite normal. This is acceptable. This is how people are getting information or finding job opportunities. So then I was going, doing that fully, and then preparing for networking events, reaching out to people on social media. Attending as many tracks as possible on campus talks to meet people.

From there, it was also a refinement of how I approach them. So we’ll discuss some tips in this episode of things I started doing through trial and error. And also, of course, learning from the best practice that the school was teaching us on how to do that.

Networking Main Challenges

From your background living in South Africa, US and Europe there is a lot of experience, but what is the real importance and challenges in Networking?

That’s awesome because you bring a very interesting perspective because you come from South Africa, you’ve been at school in Europe, and in the United States. So hopefully, we will cover that as well. And the last thing, but very important is that you’ve been an MBA once, but then you are back to school often for recruiting. So you interview MBAs now, so it’s very interesting, that perspective as well.

[07:46] So I think when we’re thinking about the podcast series, the recruiting series for MBAs. One of them was to think, okay, what are the topics? And, the networking topic, really had to be in the list. Because when I was in MBA when I was in business school, I found that it was one of the most challenging topics for students also for myself in the beginning. But really for very many students. It’s a challenging thing to network effectively.

And, from a cultural perspective, or from a social perspective, it’s like, how do you engage with people that you don’t know, for a specific purpose, but still make it feel natural and make it a good experience for everyone? That is a win/win situation. And that, I think it’s, it’s quite challenging to do that.

And I mean, I guess on the most basic level, networking, it’s also kind of like meeting people and talking to people you don’t know. And very often you have a short time to do that. If it’s a career fair on campus, or it’s maybe a company that’s coming to do a presentation. You don’t have a lot of time to build a relationship, and to see people many times like you would build friendships.

So it’s almost kind of like an accelerated socializing process. But it’s very important to do it because research on LinkedIn indicates that up to 85% of positions are actually filled through networking. So it’s a very important skill to have. And also, when I was in the MBA, we were given similar statistics, that of all the jobs that are filled for MBAs. Which percentage is just like cold application, just being sent directly with no prior contact to the company, versus doing networking and having information about the company, versus actually being referred by an employee of the company or even a senior person even better for recruitment.

It makes a huge difference in terms of being shortlisted, in terms of being viewed positively. As a candidate, and having higher chances of success. Because the way that you engage with the company from the beginning, will also then definitely have an impact on your success of being chosen as the one person to fulfill that role.

Will someone remember a guy that connected after an event and asks for a recommendation? 

Yeah, this is very important because networking is a huge energy saver for recruiters because they receive thousands and thousands of applications. But they will remember the guy that connected with them or they received a recommendation?

[10:34] Yeah, absolutely. And I think the recruiting process it’s an expensive process for everyone. So for the people that are applying, having the system, having recruiters, or having a system to review or assess applicants, to shortlist them, to interview them. It takes a lot of employee hours and time.

And of course, even when there’s an interview, if it’s on site, or there’s travel involved, there’s a travel expense. So there’s a lot of time, senior people may do the last interviews. So a lot of investment of personnel, time and systems and also in travel. And of course, you know, it’s recruiting for companies, it’s a very important process because this is the future leadership of the company that they are recruiting. These are the people that will be performing key roles in their company, especially when the high MBAs.

So this is something that’s very important for them. And given the importance of it and the investment involved. It helps to be able to shortlist or to pre-screen candidates for important roles and, of course, networking, through career events and so on. It helps even myself, when I’m going to recruiting events to meet with students.

Even though clearly I’m having a man to say, okay, are there going to be some really promising candidates in terms of our interactions that I can then pass on to the recruiting team or to recommend for interviews?

Because that already, you get a first indication in terms of the students’ approach, in terms of how they come into the recruiting fair? How much do they know about the company? How passionate are they about your brand, or about the job that you’re recruiting for?

So if it’s for consulting, for example, you know, there’s a lot of things you can see. So if it is a student that’s maybe involved in the consulting club, or is the president of the consulting club? That’s already a good indication. 

So then we can talk about, oh, what are the events you are organizing? And you can see this leadership ability. There’s is empathy because they’re thinking about the other students as well. They are proactive because they’re taking initiative to improve their skills and the skills of other people. And clearly the investing time on this topic of consulting, for example.

There’s a lot of indicators, of course, plus, you can observe kind of the fit, how people are speaking? And how prepared they are? It gives you a good sense of students that could be good candidates to work in the company from a fit perspective.

So, this is really helping a lot and it’s making the job of shortlisting candidates much easier. And of course, speaking to a person face to face and getting to know people, either through a recruiting event or informal event. It’s much more effective than just having a piece of paper in the form of a CV. And you get much more information and understanding in networking from a recruiting perspective.

The Main Differences Between an Undergrad and an MBA Doing Networking

What are the main differences between recruiting when you are at school as an undergrad and now that you are an MBA?

[13:54] Yeah, so this is the thing, I think with undergrad students or students they are just starting the studies. You will not have any work experience, maybe only one internship or no internships in the beginning. And in that case, the students are there, there’s a lot of students. So when I was doing my undergrad, there were a few thousand undergrad students. And there’s not much of a differentiation. So normally in there you’re just applying directly to the companies or getting information about the company.

When it comes to the MBA, this is now the difference is that most MBAs already have work experience. They’ve already been in different companies or different roles. So you already have a profile. And I think the difference is that when you join an MBA, it’s not just about your application on paper, so to speak, like what school you are in and what was your Gmat or your GPA, or what was just your past experience on paper.

Because companies when they recruit MBA, they’re recruiting for management positions, or more senior positions. Whether it’s consulting or in investment banking, they’re looking for the maturity, leadership potential, well rounded profile of a person that can come into the business, and immediately have an impact. But also seeing being seen as a future leader, a person with leadership potential, as well.

And those are the kind of things, the traits you can’t really judge from a CV. Those are the traits that you judge in person. So from a recruiting perspective, meeting people and getting in touch. As you know your company’s values and what profiles you’re looking for, what characteristics you value as a company, you can do that.

So, when MBAs are coming into business school, they need to think about that and say, Okay, this is my opportunity to present myself to companies and to engage with them, to show them my rounded profile that I have. And basically to pitch myself.

Places Where an MBA can Network

Where are the common places where this can happen?

[16:03] Right. So the schools are having some official career events that they’re organizing. So you would see that it would be career days. So maybe for certain countries like at HEC there was a Germany or Luxembourg, recruiting day or a Dubai recruiting day. In other cases, it could be by sector, so there could be like a banking or consulting recruiting day, or social impact. And in other cases, there’s just a general recruiting event, like at HEC Paris is called the car force, a recruiting event, and that’s all companies across all sectors.

So all of these events, official events, are very good, and that’s where you can see a lot of companies in a short timeframe, as well. Plus, like we mentioned in the previous episode, the companies that are actually coming to the campus to do presentations, to have any exhibition in the career fair. These are clearly companies that are interested in recruiting students from your school. So that’s already a very good indicator.

On the other hand, it’s also then events that are organized by MBA clubs. And this is very important. This is where also from a leadership perspective, MBAs can create their own opportunities by inviting aluminis on campus to do a presentation, a showcase.

I was the president of the industry club when I was at HEC. And in my tenure with a team that I had running the club. We had all kinds of events like this. So we were reaching out on LinkedIn, and networking ourselves with people that were alumni. Alumni are the best people to network with, of course, of the school because they have this connection with the school. And we were inviting them to come to a presentation.

So while they were doing the presentation afterwards, we will normally have some snacks or some drinks. And then this would be an opportunity for networking, informally with the people who are attending and with the person.

Other kinds of club events that we had was an alumni dinner that we organized. So this is where we booked out a nice area or a section of a nice restaurant in Paris. We had a budget as well from the club, and then we were paying for the alumni dinners. And also on via networking via our own networks or contacts or LinkedIn. We were inviting or proposing this alumni dinner to the room last to come and  attend, and there we had a very nice setup.

So we had about six alumnis, everywhere from Amazon, Uber, C&A, GM, as well as some startups. And then we were kind of having this rotation where the students and alumni could then speak with each other. So we created that opportunity.

Another type of event is what we call a social event. This is kind of organized by the school. So it can happen sometimes where it’s a social event or kind of a school event. It’s not like a recruiting event necessarily. So it’s not promoted that way or plan that way. But it actually happens that they were alumni attending at this event that the schools involved in. And then you can also be a part of this social event. So one example I can provide of this is that when I was in the MBA, there was a social event. It was organized between the MBA cohort and the EMBAs at the hotel near the school.

This was more as a social event. But in reality it was a fantastic networking opportunity because the EMBA, there in the same school as us. So we have the same love and pride for the school. And they know us, we know them in the way that we know where the building is, and we eat at the same place, we are proud to be there. But they are EMBAs, meaning that they are already in senior management or executive positions. Also very nice people to talk with.

So this was an example of a social event that was voluntary to attend. But actually, it was a great networking opportunity, which could lead to recruiting opportunities as well or references. And that was also the case with me. 

When I attended the social events, actually, I connected with one of the alumni and they were working in the logistics company, a French logistics company in China. And this was one of the internship opportunities that I had. It was to do a project for this company working for him in China, and that was that was, you know, a great output. I didn’t do the internship itself. I decided on a different internship, but that shows you what’s possible there.

And then finally, in another great networking place, is the company tracks. So not Many schools or MBA clubs or arranging these career tracks, in different places. So when I was in HEC, there was like a luxury track, where basically, as I referred to in the introduction. There were a number of luxury companies that we were visiting throughout the day, a skincare company. We went to Givenchi to the studio. We had a master class with the CFO. We went to their boutique. And then the last step for the day, we went to Vogue Paris, and we met with the managing editor there.

So this was very interesting and it shows you what is like these tracks, again, is getting information. But also potentially standing out as someone who could work in the company. Or like I said, getting information and then being able to refer to that also in the future. Because if you’re interested in the company, and you’ve attended a track. And you’ve already attended, being in the office, in the cover letter in your application, is very good to refer to that. To say, I’ve already been in the office, for example, in New York. And I’ve already met these people by name, you can mention. And already from a recruiters perspective, they can see, okay, this is a person who is already showing an interest and being proactive and gotten our company.

Meeting People – Priorities, Different Types and Levels

What are the best people to reach out for networking?

Maybe we can speak a little bit later about what are the main tips you have to recruit. For example, include the name on the application for maybe adding them to LinkedIn, sending a note, this kind of tips. But before I wanted to ask you beyond the low hanging fruits who are the people that you can network with?

 [22:41] So the first and foremost the best people to network with or your peers or your classmates in the MBA. And this is something this is a networking pool, I can say, that people are not really appreciating or really thinking about. Because normally you think, okay, I need to network actually more with the recruiters or with the companies to get a position. But the key thing is the peers firstly, and why do I say that?

The first reason is that your peers will be your future network coming out of the MBA. So one of the biggest selling points of doing an MBA program is to build a network, and to know people. And while doing the MBA, everyone might be a student, and you’re all together in the school or in the residence or in the class. But after that, all of your classmates will actually be professional senior people in the industry globally. And that’s very powerful to have this because many people don’t have such a network.

The other aspect of networking with your peers is that they might come from industries, or companies, or positions that you are interested in yourself. So they can give you a lot of information in an informal way. And they can even refer you or give you inside information on a company that you can use in your recruiting process. So very nice source of information. But also there’s the future potential if we don’t forget that because then other networking is not something you just do in the MBA.

Networking and advancing your career also post-MBA is done in the same manner. It’s also done through networking informally. Especially if you become more senior, then it’s a lot more targeted recruiting. So for senior positions in companies when it gets to the senior manager or senior director or vice president roles, normally those roles are not filled from public application, not typically. A very strong focus will be people that are known to the recruiter or to their senior manager who’s trying to fill those positions. And I’ve observed this firsthand as well in my company that I’m currently working for.

So that’s one, and the other one, the next step or the next level I can say is alumni, for sure. So alumni of the school, it’s the highest probability of getting a response. So LinkedIn is absolutely the best way to reach out to alumni. So LinkedIn, for sure, sending messages, having a very nice explanation or being action oriented, so we can discuss some tips later. But LinkedIn is the one.

And the other one is definitely going to the events that we’ve mentioned before, getting the exposure. I can tell you networking, it has a lot to do with exposure, and these events and seeing multiple people. And having contact with a lot of alumni in person is the best because that’s the easiest. But then also in LinkedIn, you can set up some opportunities.

So following the alumni that the pool of people that you can network with, is people that are coming to the campus to present the company, people coming for recruiting events, for career fairs. And that’s also a great opportunity. So look at the club’s schedules. See what the events are when speakers are being invited and are being on campus.

And in my experience in the MBA it’s almost every week that there are  some speakers or some talks happening. And go to those and I think that it’s also a good learning opportunity and it’s also a networking opportunity.

So sometimes you’ll be surprised at the access you can get, or people you can meet that you would have never planned to from the beginning. But because they will be anywhere on campus, you get to meet them and then opportunities are coming from that.

And then finally, and this is also one that has worked very well for me in the MBA, but people will not really think about this, when you actually have guest professors coming to the campus. So if the Career Center is organizing the talk on a specific industry, on a sector, and normally those people that are being invited to come and talk about that industry. Also are seen as being successful or having experience in this industry and being established in that industry. So, you can have a look at this one. So, those people that are coming there, you can speak to them, and it can be a great opportunity to network with senior people or maybe people in high positions and see all the opportunities to engage with them.

So, I can give one example, when I was at Yale. So we had in one of my lectures actually, one of the guest speakers that was there in person was the CEO of Harley Davidson. So me being a motorcycle enthusiast and having Harley Davidsons in the past. It was very nice for me to meet him and take a photo together, shake his hand and so on. But if I’d been interested in working for the company that would have been a great opportunity to say, I’d really like to explore an opportunity at your company, and bring this to the CEO, being at Yale. He told us, his daughter was also studying at Yale.

So, that can be a great networking opportunity. So at that stage, I had already accepted a full time offer. So I was not aiming for networking from that perspective. But this is one strong example. Also a networking that I did with this guest speaker concept is we had the CEO of Kering come to the HEC campus. So that’s the holding company for Chanel, and many other luxury brands. Afterwards he was actually having drinks and speaking to people, after the session, and also the senior vice president for HR was also speaking to people. So that’s a very strong networking opportunity with people that you would normally never get access to.

So, then look at the concepts that I mentioned also guest professors. If there’s people coming there to present a workshop, like it’s also happening as well when I’m presenting the Lean Six Sigma workshop in management excellence with Optness. It’s also when I’m a professor as a guest professor for the weekend. It’s also an opportunity for students to network with me, and some of them do actually. And this is leading to interviews in some cases. So take advantage of that, I would say.

What are the differences between connecting with more senior levels and middle managers or less senior level? 

One question I have is about the opportunities I have as an MBA for networking, and what are the differences between connecting with more senior levels and middle managers or less senior level? Like, is there any difference between connecting with the CEO of a company or VP or lower rank management positions?

[30:17] Right. So I think in all cases, it always depends on the other person’s style. So you might get some senior people that like to be casual and engage with younger people and get to learn from them and engage with them as well. And also, you might get some people that are early in their career, but quite reserved, and more formal.

So in all cases, I would say, just see what is the personal style of the other person, what they are comfortable with as a starting point. Having said that, there is a difference definitely in your approach, overall. So,  for, let’s say, the alumni or for the people that you network with early in the career. It’s a bit more of a PR conversation, because you may be similar age, and you can relate. So the topics you can discuss are more relatable to being in the MBA, or starting in the company or maybe it’s their first job after the MBA. So you can be you can relate to them more like this, and be sometimes a bit more casual sharing the personal experience.

When it comes to more senior people, in my experience, it’s not so much about the social aspect. It’s got more to do with more about what is your profile? What is your pitch? And is there a fit for the company? Because senior people are normally aware of roles that need to be filled, or thinking about the next steps or the future expansion and the teams to maybe in the organization under them then about some roles that are there.

I would say there it’s more about, okay, having the elevator pitch, explaining your profile, convincing on that. And then potentially them seeing you as fitting a specific role, which they can then have an influence to recommend you for or arrange an interview. So then in a way, it’s a bit more going directly into an opportunity.

With early careers, people that you network with, sometimes they can refer you. Other times, maybe not. So they could be more useful for giving you information, or helping you to learn about a company. Or like, in my case, when I was at Yale, I engaged with alumni to do mock interviews, actually, in the company that I was interested in, and arrange two or three mock interviews. And then that was kind of like interview preparation.

But through the networking, I then said to them, I’m in the MBA, in the business school, and would you be able to help me with doing this interview prep. And they were helping me in that and that was very nice. Or they could help you to learn about the region, a specific information is not publicly available about what roles are trying to fill. Are they recruiting? Any tips that they have for preparation of interviews? And so on. Then also potentially they can refer you. But that reference would be not as strong as a senior person who directly has decision making power to employ people.

Ways to do Effective Networking

Do you have any more thoughts on how to network effectively with these people?

[33:27] Yes, absolutely. So the way to network effectively, is you need to look at it as a combination of socializing. The way I like to put it is finding opportunities for collaboration. And this is how I recommend people to see it. Because when you are going into a networking situation, it’s not clear beforehand, what opportunities are available? What information is available? Are people interested in discussing business? I’ve been to some networking events where there were people that were not interested in discussing business at all. For them, it was purely just a social event to have fun and meet people socially. That’s it.

So, it really depends. The thing is, that’s why you’re saying it’s socializing, first of all. Because networking, it is that there’s a social element, it’s meeting people. It’s having something that’s interesting to talk about. In nature, it’s a human interaction. That’s in the basic way.

And then after that, it’s seen as socializing, you do everything that you would do normally, when you socialize with people. So, being polite, being friendly, introducing yourself, these are all things that are important. And then also having in your mind a broad set of goals.

So, like we discussed in the discovery episode, there’s a lot of things about getting information, getting to know about the company, knowing what recruiting opportunities there are, knowing about what skills they’re recruiting for. So that’s also a goal. So getting information is one goal, getting an internship, or a full time position or an interview for that is also a goal. And maybe also a goal is to have a mentor, or someone who can also teach you, or give you tips or advice on how to succeed in the MBA, on how to succeed in finding an internship.

And so going into a networking opportunity, you need to have this broad range of potential benefits or outcomes in mind. And you need to have that in your mind, already. So you need to go with a purpose, of course, so you must have a purpose in your mind. And, and the way I say about collaboration, is because when you’re speaking to people, and getting to know them. First of all, you’ll see that like, a click, or is there an interest or connection.

So just like in everyday life, some people we really connect with, and we enjoy speaking to them, and we have a great time talking to them. And other people, yes, we may like them, but there’s no common interest or it’s not so interesting to speak to them, you don’t feel that you’re not drawn to them somehow. And it’s the same with networking.

So when you find these people you can actually connect with and have this connection. Then you can start to steer the discussion into their personal experience, or the company they work for, or ask them questions about the current job because people are normally proud about what they do. So normally, it’s a good place to start . What is your current role? And what are you doing there? How long have you been in the role? Can you tell me more about the company you work for?

So they like general questions that you can open up with. And then from there in the conversation you start to see basically what this person can assist you with? What is on offer? They might tell you directly,  oh, we are actually expanding our team. Okay, that’s like a clear signal of, okay, maybe there’s a recruiting opportunity.

It could be that maybe from their perspective, they want to talk more about the experience when they’re in the MBA because coming to an alumni event reminds them of the time they were in the MBA. And then use that in a way that you get the benefit of, okay, this person, clearly they’re successful, they’re in a good company in a good position. So if they share the experience with me, that’s also good.

But it could also be that maybe we have a connection, but we don’t talk about specific things. But at the end of the conversation, at least you get the business card from the person, which is very important. So this for me, one of my goals is always to keep contact and get a business card or as the person on LinkedIn. 

And then at least you say maybe at the end of the discussion at some point, I’m currently looking for an internship, or I’m looking for a full time role in this industry, could I reach out to you in a few weeks or in a month’s time for advice? 

And have that as a takeaway. So for me, with every person I ever networked with, whether it was a connection, always aim to get a business card, and to keep the door open for future communication and contact and that was very important.

So I think the key message is, don’t be overly focused on any one particular outcome. And also don’t feel that, if you go to a networking event, and there was no concrete outcome. Like on the day or on the same night. Don’t see it as a failure, don’t see this as a problem. Because, again, going into it, you don’t know what’s there.

And a really important principle that I can say to everyone, is that networking, similarly recruiting in general, it’s what we will call a numbers game. So it’s not that you’ll network with five people and get five concrete outcomes of that. That’s not how it works. It works more like a funnel. So the more people you network with, then a percentage of that will be referrals for recruiting, will be information about the company, will be MBA advice, and so on.

So the key is to do as much networking, targeted networking as possible. Targeted, again, on the companies that you’re interested in. But be open minded. Just the fact that you attended the networking and you try to participate, and you are engaged. That is already the success for you as an MBA. Not going to a networking event, for me that is the biggest failure, or feeling you’re not ready, or not comfortable with it. Or, I mean, it comes down to it.

So sometimes people will prioritize fun events or social events over networking events. This could be, in my opinion, the mistake. While I also had a lot of fun, I enjoyed my MBA a lot from a social perspective. Clearly, the people that were there in those networking events, ultimately walked away with concrete opportunities. I can say for sure, both my internship and my MBA project, and my full time role, all involved networking.

So my internship and MBA project have a very strong degree of networking. Actually, I only knew about the role because I was networking. And the full time role is, actually, meeting the company at the career fair and discussing with them, introducing myself to them. So it just shows you just being there how important it is. But again, you don’t know what can come out of it.

And also I think that takes me maybe to the next point that people can ask is, how do you get good at networking?

Improving Networking Skills

How an MBA can improve his networking skills? Is there a way to do that?

Yeah, naturally it comes to that. That’s awesome advice because for some people, it may be very difficult and a very stressful situation. And knowing that, okay, just doing the first thing, showing up is a success that takes out some of the pressure to network or to do it right. The thinking is the emotional aspect of saying, Okay, I have to do it right in some way. But, anyways, there is a way to improve it, right?

 [41:40] Yeah. And the way to do that is to practice, and you can only get good at networking through practice. So it’s not something that people are born with. It’s not something that people are naturally good at. It’s something that you improve and you get results. The more you do it.

Really I think the mindset, is it coming into the MBA, the program you’ve chosen. All of the investment and the efforts that you put into being in the program, you need to see the networking as one of the major benefits. But also important activities you’re going to do because, as we mentioned before, the vast majority of jobs are actually offered through a networking process.

Yes, those people are still applying and still being interviewed. You still go through the recruiting process the same. But it’s different, the amount of opportunities or interviews you will get will be much more with networking. The more desirable jobs. The more interesting jobs in the top companies will be more focused on networking because those companies like to get referral from senior people or people they’ve already engaged with. Because it strengthens their recruiting process to make sure that they have the right people.

So I think just the first point is to say, do it a lot, start very early in the MBA and do it continuously. And take it as an iterated process, do it step by step. You won’t be perfect in the beginning, you won’t be perfect even in the end, but you’ll get better at it. And also, another way to get good at it is to look at best practices. It’s also part of it is to read online, on LinkedIn. If there’s articles that have been published, YouTube, podcasts.

Also the career center of your school will, like in my case, they also had a workshop on networking, to give you the skills, to teach you how it works and how to do it. It’s like riding a bicycle. So you can read a book on riding a bicycle. But, physically you will only do it once just thinking about riding the bike. So it’s still the same. So you can’t get good at networking just by researching it, you have to do it. But I would say hand in hand. It’s also, learning about best practice.

And also, a third one that I can add, is observing others on how they network. So there’s also some people in your MBA that will have a natural flair for networking because they are extroverted or outgoing. Or maybe they had a sales position in the previous role. So they’re really comfortable with speaking, with projecting themselves, with having this influence. And being able to have this kind of social interaction. See how they do it. And very often in a networking situation, there can be one or two people standing next to the person speaking to them, the recruiter or to the other person, the alumni. So,  in a way you can also see if someone does it very well, how do they do it? And learn from them. Learn by seeing and sometimes learn by doing as well.

Cultural Aspects of Networking

What are the differences between networking in the US and Europe?

You already gave a lot of things here, Orestes. But we will get more meat and potatoes right here. We will have more tips for you for MBAs. Anyways, I wanted you to pause a little bit. And can you talk a little bit about the difference between networking in the US and in Europe, now that you have that experience firsthand?

[45:26] Yes. So, definitely, there are differences. And I would say it comes down to the cultural differences of the countries. And also of the companies themselves, and off the schools as well, and the location, I can say. So if we cover some of this from a location perspective, depending on where your MBA is, that will have a big impact on who you network with.

So when I was at HEC, clearly from an alumni perspective the network. The networking that was happening was in Paris, Paris based companies, Paris based alumni. And that was also within the culture. So the French culture, of fine dining, of having champagne, of having small snacks and fruits, you need to go along with that. It was all part of this. And also people were dressed very well. And, of course, for being the one of the capitals of luxury in the world, in terms of the accessories in terms of the look of everybody, it was quite elegant as well.

That networking, I found there was a lot of networking that was happening this way. Also found, for example, in France, and like in Europe, it’s also a lot more about getting to know people personally, in order to work with them. And it’s this thing of having more extended engagement with companies, maybe having an informal meeting before interviews are happening. Or having more meetings, or more interviews with people because they want to see that there’s a cultural fit.

And the cultural fit is very important because the cultures in Europe are quite strong. And each country has quite a strong or dominant culture of how it is in the country. But this is also applying to the companies. So that was a factor.

If I look at the US from a different perspective. I think that being in New Haven, in that case, New York and Boston within, but they were quite far. So there the networking was, when there were companies on campus, it was more structured. So the networking there was more about a recruiting week or on campus recruiting season.

And the companies were recruiting at a certain part of the year, and being on campus. and that was seen as the key opportunity to do networking in the recruiting. It was more like a seasonal aspect. And if people wanted to do further networking, they then had to go do it more Individually. So this was the perspective.

I think then also in the US, my experience was that the networking was more job oriented. So people almost like getting more to the point. So it was less about socializing. And more about talking professionally. What is the company? What is the job? Is there a fit? So it seems to be more focused on the recruiting aspect as opposed to in general.

I mean, something that is common in the US and Europe, depending on your school, where you have a strong school culture, with a strong alumni network, it’s the same. Where the people are equally willing to support each other. And that’s a good trait. I would say that you have that on both.

And I think one thing just finally to add, it’s also to know in Europe or US you could get different types of companies that you are recruiting into, and wherever your school is, as well. Again, like we mentioned about tech versus economy or industrial or luxury or energy or consulting, it also has an impact. And, of course, even if you like consulting firms. They could have multiple offices in the US, or across Europe and each office. And the projects they do and the customers, the industries that they work with also changes. And then even the culture is changing somehow.

Networking Tips and Tools for an MBA

Are there any other tips for networking that you find interesting sharing?

[49:28] Yeah, absolutely. So there were some things that really worked well for me, that I developed over my MBA studies. So because people find it difficult, and I think this is worth sharing. So, the first and foremost thing to do is to develop an elevator pitch for yourself. So many MBAs could be familiar with this elevator pitch, topic or concept. And, normally, it’s applied also to startups, where you pitch your startup idea to investors or to VCs. And then, they’re kind of just a summary of what you’re doing.

So the elevator pitch of yourself is how you will introduce yourself in a networking situation. This is very important to think about it and to structure it. It’s a combination of what you are interested in, but also what you bring to the table. What is interesting about you? Or what traits or characteristics or interests or motivation do you have that you want to share with another person? Because you just met them in most cases.

So when you first meet them, think about, yes, introduce yourself, the fact that you should say that you’re an MBA from such and such a school, and what your interest is to open. So they can already place you. And they can see. And your pitch can also involve what your past experience was, and what your future interest is, and maybe what you’re doing in the MBA.

Think very strategically about what you want to share about yourself, and what you want to indicate is what your objectives are. And you might not use the elevator pitch fully in the beginning. You might have some information or part of the elevator pitch that you say later on. So it could be a response to a question. Are you looking for a job? Or are you interested in doing an internship in the summer? Then you want to have a good answer to that. So that’s also part of the pitch.

So you need to be clear. Yes, I am looking for an internship. I have work authorization to the school. So the work Visa is already in place. If that’s important, you can say this. And I’ll be able to actually do my internship between this date and this date. And based on our discussion so far, I’m very interested in your company. So that’s already but that’s prepared.

To go and wing it, or improvise the networking. It’s not a good thing because if you think while you speak. You will not be as structured, as prepared, as organized in how you will communicate. You will be like fumbling through or missing key points. So, think about this.

Also, like I mentioned the introduction, clearly, it’s important to say that you’re an MBA. You can also put in an experienced person in something. Because in some schools, you also have undergraduates or master students that don’t have experience. So it’s important to position your experience in yourself, and that’s an elevator pitch.

So, that’s very important to develop. And the key thing is to say, again, what you’re interested in and what people should know about you. The other point is that you need to, so another tip is speak to a wide range of people at a networking event. And make sure of it so that you can see who you click with. Where is the connection? But also to get the full scope opportunities that exist in this event are in the situation.

So it’s tempting to just talk to someone because maybe they are friendly, or you like them from a social perspective. But if you spend the whole evening talking to one person that maybe you get along with. But from a recruiting perspective, there’s nothing concrete. Then it’s not really productive for you to do that. You also need to get out of the comfort zone.

And I think also for the other person that you are networking with is to not stay too long. At some point when the conversation comes to like a natural conclusion. Then it’s nice to know thank them for their time. 

So of course, being polite, being respectful. Being considerate is a very important tip to keep in mind. It’s still a professional context that people must not forget. It’s still a professional situation. So, thank them for the time asked for business caught, as in the closing. Ask him if you can still stay in touch, if it made sense if you feel something, if no move further. And then move to the next so that you get a good rotation. So just be aware of your timekeeping. And you might not get to talk to everyone. But try to talk to most people.

And, I’ve kind of touched on it as well. But I can re emphasize that you need to have objectives in mind before you go to any event. What you plan is what will happen, that is the same. It’s like the saying, when you’re driving, you should look where you want to go. Because that’s where naturally you will end. Even when you’re on a bicycle or drive a car. Wherever you focus on, you kind of go in that direction. It’s the same with networking.

So one of the things you can get? An internship or full time role, an MBA research project that you need to fulfill. Maybe you’re looking for a mentor or someone to give you support or advice or information,  that you can learn from them. Perhaps looking for a speaker or a participant for an MBA club event. That is also done heavily through networking. We mentioned learning from different companies and industries.

And then also importantly, is understanding recruiting processes and career paths. That is very important to know the recruiting process, to know what to expect, what to prepare for. And when MBAs are reaching out to me via LinkedIn, for advice on my current company. This is one of the main questions that I get correctly, so it is what is the recruiting process? How do I apply? What documents do I need? What are the steps? So that they know what to prepare for.

Another tip that I can add is to be natural and be sociable. So make it something that’s comfortable, make it something that’s enjoyable for everyone. And also, of course, doing in an appropriate way. And there’s a way to be appropriate, of course. But do it in a positive way. People can tell if you are feeling awkward, or you are too reserved, or you don’t want to be there. They can sense that. So if you are uncomfortable, and you are uncomfortable in the situation. They also normally are uncomfortable and it won’t really progress too far.

On the other hand, you also need to be careful not to be too objective focused. Because then people will think, okay, they haven’t got a chance to know you, but you already asked them for something. And they don’t really know you. So they’re not sure like, why would they refer you for a position. They don’t know you at all so it’s like you are still a stranger. And then it also kind of feels like you’re using them in the situation. They feel like well, the person is not really interested in speaking to me, they’re just trying to get a job. But I don’t even know them yet. So maybe this is not working out.

And people will feel that. So you need to build a rapport first, and let the discussion, let the conversation progress. And also, it’s a two way street. See where the other person is going with the conversation as well.

You can raise questions. So it is good to have questions. Is your company recruiting in Europe this year? I heard that you have this expansion in Asia Pacific, do you have a team already? Or is your company recruiting roles for that? There’s a way of being indirect about it. But also from the discovery phase, that we discussed that, you can bring. And this is a key tip, is to bring a lot of knowledge and understanding of the information about that person’s company to the conversation because that builds relatability.

That’s, already, like their interest in the company. If you talk about topical issues that are happening in the company, they’re going to really be motivated to speak to you. And they’ll say, wow, this person really knows and understands what’s going on.

And, and actually, a lot of times they like to discuss this topic, as they will with colleagues as well. So already, they would start to see you as like more of a colleague than a student or someone who’s coming to ask them for something.

What are some of the questions that you liked the most, somebody made to you, or you felt it gave a lot of room for speaking for, or four rapport building?

 

 [58:21] Yes. So what I like is when people are curious, in a good way. In a good way, meaning they’re curious to learn about the company. But they’ve already done the research. So they’re asking me a question, which I also feel like it’s a valuable question. It’s valuable because the information is not publicly available. So it’s a specific question. And it’s one that they could only get by asking me, and then I feel like, okay, this is a good use of my time and a good use of their time as well. So, this is a good question.

I mean, tons of questions that people can ask. Definitely around, like, what is the recruiting process? How should I apply? Tell me about projects that you are working on? What are some of the strategic priorities of your company? Also referring to current events. So if something is currently happening in the world, how is your company reacting to this?

So at the moment, it has to do with the work from home situation. So that’s a nice question. Because it’s new for me, I’m also spending a lot of time thinking about this. And in our company, it’s also developing best practices. So when people are asking me this question, I’m very happy to discuss with them, and share information. Think about something that’s interesting, that’s topical. That would be my advice.

So we’ve mentioned I think about being relatable and relevant in your conversation. Adding to that have a given and take approach when I mentioned, it’s a two way street. That’s important as well. So maybe you can offer also, know what you have to offer. You might be able to teach them something, or give insight on information that is unique to you.

Maybe because you’ve been coming from a region that they have not worked in, or they don’t know much about, or you share information about what you’ve done in your company. So if you network with someone who’s in the same industry as your previous job. You can tell them Oh, actually, when I was in my previous company, we actually solved this problem in this way. And that could lead to some further interesting discussion. So think about this also, as a given and take. I think any interaction when there’s value from both sides, that’s when it really works well.

Things to pay Attention and to Avoid While Networking

Is there any time that you saw this being done wrong?

[60:52] Yes, definitely. I get contacted by a lot of MBAs and a lot of students. I can say probably the one that’s done wrong. Somehow, I think moling people are reaching out to start the networking process. Where some people somehow feel entitled to your time as an alumni. When I’m acting as an alumni, this for me, it’s really demotivating because everyone’s time is valuable. I have a broad range of topics that I’m engaged with. Of course, I also have a family. So there’s a lot of parts of my life that I’m dedicated to.

So, it’s really unfortunate. I think when students somehow have a mindset of being entitled, that, you must speak to them. You’re somehow obligated to give your time, and that this kind of entitled approach for me, doesn’t work at all personally.

From a networking perspective where the way that works the best, and this is, fortunately, the vast majority of cases. Is where students are reaching out, and very polite, introducing themselves, being considerate of the time. Asking if we can make time available in the next week or two. And have a specific question. So they can say they want to learn more about my current company. Or they would like to learn more about the MBA I attended.

Something that I’m also happy to share my experience and then if they have the discussion. I’m open, as we speak, and I can also see how the conversation goes. And I’m also more than happy to provide any assistance that I can in terms of information or referring people or maybe even referring them to a former classmate, and so on. Any opportunity that I’m aware of. Sharing educational opportunities. I’m very open to helping others. And that’s my default approach, and I really enjoy that as an alumni. Also as someone working in the company.

But, that’s what I would say to people to avoid, as a kind of a pitfall, is don’t feel like because you’re in the MBA, that you’re entitled to people’s time. Even if it’s in a networking event. So, of course, they are already in the position of being in a job or having graduated. You need help at the end of the day in looking for their support. So you still need to have that understanding, and the respect of their time and being considerate. So that’s what I would encourage everyone to do.

Do you see any kind of pattern from people coming from specific industries or from people with a specific background or maybe people from certain countries?

 [63:42] In terms of being a student networking with others. It’s definitely dependent on the, I would say the country in some cases, because the person’s culture also determines how social they want to be. Or how focus they will be on the professional aspect. And this also applies to the context. So in some cultures, they are not comfortable with networking because it’s seen somehow as being an unofficial activity or something like that.

In other cases, it’s also more sociable. So this also in Europe, some countries, like Mediterranean culture, it’s much more sociable, it’s more open. The social aspect is important. So people like to connect on a social level on a personal level, and then do business with people that connect with. When other cultures it’s more the other way around. It’s much more about the professional fit, and less about the social aspect. You’ll also see this in the style of the people.

When it comes to networking, in terms of the industries themselves, I would say there’s not a lot that’s separating the industries. It’s more about knowing what are the priorities, the trends, and the current affairs of that industry. So having that already base knowledge, when you engage with people. It’ll already build credibility with you as a student, coming to them, because they will see, you already know the industry, you speak something that they can relate to. And that’s already a good starting point for sure.

The Importance of Following Up and Business Cards

What about following up? Do you have any tips on following up with people?

[65:27] Yes. So the follow up is, you know, is very important. Like, if you’re having a call, you can also network over Skype or phone call, or an event. But nothing will happen in that event, necessarily. Normally there should be some next step. And this is also part of your objectives. Of course, it’s also how the conversation has developed, plus what the other person has offered you or you’ve asked for is willing to offer you.

So first is to see what is there. But you have to, if I can put it like this, you also need to close the deal. And this is one of the biggest errors, I think that people make is you have a nice networking and you have a nice connection. But you don’t close with something concrete that you can take forward.

And remember the alumni themselves, they are not going to or the person you networking with put it this way, they’re not trying to get anything out of the conversation, typically. They’re there to help them make themselves available. But in general, they’ll go back to their job and go back home and it’s normal for them. But for you, you are urgently trying to find an MBA project or an internship or full time role. So that’s urgent. So you have the urgency.

So don’t expect that people are going to offer you something, you need to ask for it. And that’s part of your next steps or your close out in your mind or you need to say, okay, in our conversation, this person mentioned that they are recruiting for internships in the next few months. So as part of my closing statements.

Almost like the way you would do a meeting, in a way, is to close with and say, Okay, I was very happy to hear that your company will be recruiting for internships. When will that be? And they could say, okay, maybe in August, okay, could I reach out to you in August? Maybe, could I have your business card or your phone number to reach out to you, when the applications are opening?

And then you can see what to say. If they say, Yes, I’d be happy to do that. Because for them, they also want to fill the positions. Then the next step could be, and then you can leave it at that. But make sure you get the contact details.

So the LinkedIn contact, I would say is the weakest connection. But it’s a good one, you must have it anyway. And even if I will not ask permission, you should just say I will add you on LinkedIn. And when you send the invitation also put a note and mention something in your conversation, or something about yourself. Where you met, where you spoke, and send it the next day or the same day. Don’t do it later so they can remember you. That’s an important point.

Because again, in a networking event, they’ll meet a lot of students or a lot of people potentially. So they won’t remember everyone. I’d say that the next strongest connection is to get a business card. So business cards are also very important. By the way, you as an MBA should also have business cards. It’s critical.

I personally don’t believe in this idea that everything is virtual, and everything is online. It’s not like this. So in my experience, if I get a card from a person. It’s also like somehow an endorsement. It’s a commitment. This person wanted to give me the contact details. So that’s already good. That business card has a lot of information. Their title, the address of the company where they work, the email address and the phone, and sometimes even the mobile number.

So it’s a lot of information that you can keep. And for me getting a business card, which is not always happening. It was one of the key outcomes of a conversation that I wanted to have. But on the other hand, I also had my own business cards that I was giving to the other person.

Now this is already creating a memorable situation because they have my name, they have my inflammation. When they go to the office, they’re probably going to put it on the desk as the first reaction or reflex. So then, you’re already then being visible. But just having the card is the details.

 And I would say, the third strongest thing you can do, or the strongest thing you can do coming out of a networking conversation, is to actually plan a next step with a person. I had a very good example, while we had a great conversation today, I was very excited to hear about your company. Would it be possible for me to come and have an informal meeting with you in your office in the next two weeks? That’s strong.

So already, you’re getting a commitment for something concrete. I really like this discussion. I wish we had more time. Would you like to get together for a drink? And we can discuss it further. Another example, yes, I’m so glad that you ‘re willing to support our MBA club. And for the recruiting dinner that we are planning, I’ll send you an email with the details, when it will be, and the time, date and the location. And you can let me know if you can join.

You see, so it’s also then because you have your objectives in mind. It’s setting up these concrete next steps that already have been planned and you get the buying. That’s much stronger than just getting the contact details, and then asking for it later, when already the priorities change and so on.

And I think also when you set these things up in person. I mean being face to face with someone, it’s already kind of a stronger question than if you send them an email. And they’re busy working, and maybe they even missed the email that’s on. So, definitely those important next steps.

What I can say is a key tip for MBAs, is don’t wait for the school to give a business card or print it for you. Most of the schools are producing business cards in a standard format for students. And it looks nice and the layout is very good, and normally they pay for it as well, and it’s very good.

The problem in my experience is that the process to get the business caught was taking like two or three months. So it was delayed. And this delay is not good because you’re going to be networking from day one, potentially, in the first week in the school. You want to have the card to give to someone because I’ve been to recruiting events when I was a student.

Where also when someone gives you a card, there’s an expectation that you would give your card to them. It’s kind of like reciprocal, it’s natural that we expect that. And then what’s happening is, if someone’s giving you a card. And then a student is saying, sorry, I don’t have a card to give you. It’s actually making a bad impression.

But if someone has a business card in a nice holder, to give it out saying, oh, thanks for you. And also, it’s also a way if you have a card, you can initiate it, here is my business card. Could I have your card to stay in touch? So it’s kind of creating this dynamic, interpersonal dynamic.

So, what I’d recommend and this is, actually, what I did when I was in the MBA. I was not waiting for the printing process at all. I actually went online, and I found an online business card printing service. I designed the card myself as professionally as possible with the school logo. I had those delivered within two or three days, and I was ready to go.

Take this initiative, don’t don’t let anything hold you back in the networking process. And this is just one example where you can be proactive, get the cards, get going. When they give you the official ones, use those, or use your one. No one is governing this. There’s no rules on that. Everyone’s already an MBA, it’s legitimate. So use it. Like I said, business cards really it’s, and I also was surprised by how important it was. And it’s in your networking, at least in the in person networking, it’s very important to do this, and to have this.

Any final considerations?

Awesome, Orestes. Thank you very much for your tips. I think they are very valuable and the audience will enjoy, and put it to use because they are very actionable. If you have any closing thoughts and I want to mention as well that students and listeners can write to us and ask for these kinds of things. Or what kind of content do you want to hear or listen to more. About what kind of topics we can deep dive more. Feel free to write to us, make your comments as well, what we can talk about. Because we are developing content in this direction, and your input is very much appreciated.

 [74:17] Yeah, that’s very good. And we look forward to those questions and answering them as well. So I think about my closing of the network networking topic. Just like to summarize and say, as an MBA, starting your new career and being in the business school, networking is one of the most important activities that you will do.

It’s a limited opportunity. So take advantage of it while you’re on the campus. I encourage you to prioritize it over many events. And sometimes even over interview preparation or of applying for jobs because of the time spent in networking, getting to meet people, and get concrete referrals. Is going to be much more valuable than making five applications with no referral, and maybe never even get shortlisted, and you never get there.

So prioritize it, make time for it, research and prepare for it. Read  up on best practices that are existing. And then like we said, start and do it. And do not expect to be an expert or to feel comfortable, or to be brilliant at it from the first time. 

And also remember, it’s a funnel. So when you’re sending messages on LinkedIn, or you’re walking up to people in an event, it’s a funnel. In the sense that the more people you speak to, the greater the chances of success of having more opportunities at the end.

So expect that you will not get those opportunities, you will not get something from each and every interaction. That’s not a problem. The success is being there. And I can assure you that the longer you stay at it, the better you get. And the more networking that you do, the opportunities and the information and the learning, and the support will definitely come out in the end.

I wish everyone the best of luck with networking. Enjoy it, have fun with it. It’s a key part of your MBA. And I can tell you, also, when you go into the industry, it’s something that’s a lifelong career skill that if you develop in the MBA, it will continue to pay off for life.

Thank you for joining for this episode of the MBA talk podcast. A podcast brought to you by Optness Institute. You can find all notes for this episode, as well as subscribes for future episodes optness.com/mbatalk.

And if you’re enjoying the show or have any comments, topics or guest suggestions. I love you to shoot me an email. My name is Andres. And you can write me to mbatalk@optness.com.

With that, thank you and we’ll see you in the next episode.

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