A friend and I were talking about the importance of networking and how it often can yield great results…think that new job, a potential deal, even a new dynamic friendship.
I was reminded of the fact that this friend was able to start his hedge fund based on having gone to a dinner and meeting with a business woman who would later become a friend and mentor.
Long story short, she would eventually become his first investor in his fund.
But the value of networking extends also to applying to business school. What do I mean by that?
I’m not suggesting that candidates stalk admission board members by going to 50 events that the school hosts.
I recommend, instead, that applicants take a strategic view to their network as they prepare for the MBA. Here are just a few examples of how you can do just that:
Network to narrow down your list of schools:
Write down a list of everyone you know who has an MBA in your circle of friends and arrange drinks with as many of them as you can.
Ask about their MBA experience, how the program helped them in their career, and, most importantly, the type of career support they received from the school.
Take notes and compare the feedback you have received. See if certain themes emerge from certain schools and ask yourself whether those are programs where you can see yourself.
Then start to build your tentative list of schools. At the very least this exercise will deepen your ties and won’t be a waste of time.
Network to select the right recommender:
Look beyond your friendship network to your place of employment. Do your supervisors have an MBA? Are they supportive of this degree?
Don’t wait till when you have to ask your boss for a recommendation letter to find out if he/she has an MBA. Not having an MBA doesn’t mean your boss won’t be supportive.
But it is more likely that if your boss didn’t pursue one he/she may not be as supportive. Even bosses with an MBA may not be supportive enough to make great recommenders.
So broach the subject early with your boss and find out where he/she stands.
If you sense that there could be an issue with an unsupportive boss, you should begin looking around the firm for potential other options (acceptable recommenders are clients, other senior employees with whom you have worked who may not be your direct supervisor).
If you identify someone with an MBA who seems supportive of people going for the degree, you may begin now to lobby to work with this person on some project so that when you need a recommendation he/she will be able to provide a meaningful one, as this should be a priority in your MBA strategy.
Also, don’t forget to continue to stay connected with a previous boss since you may need him/her down the line to write you a recommendation.
Network to differentiate yourself:
Through active networking you will discover interesting organizations that are doing phenomenal things to change lives.
If you are at least a year out before you apply you can identify interesting organizations where you can take on a leadership role and create impact.
A client of ours was looking for ways to get involved in his community while leveraging his Wall Street experience.
By getting the word out to his network, he was able to learn of a consulting program for entrepreneurs in underserved communities and was able to work with them to overhaul their strategy and financial operations.
This experience allowed him to use his skill set to impact an organization and in the process distinguish himself from his competition.
He would not have learned of this opportunity if he hadn’t tapped into his network.
Network to make friends:
I encourage applicants to network with each other. While you are competitors (if applying to the same schools), the opportunity for great friendships are many.
Some of our clients have been able to establish friendships with people they met in GMAT classes or Information Sessions and Admission Days on campus.
These individuals could be your future roommate or even business partner. Stay open to new possibilities and get outside of your comfort zone.
Network to market yourself to the admission board:
And this brings me back to the final point. Yes, you should network and engage admissions people.
You never know where/how it can pay off. Schools have information sessions throughout the year. Even when classes are not in session, it is worth going if you are able to fit it in.
HBS will have info sessions in the summer (Mondays and Fridays). You never know what you may learn. The same goes for other schools so take advantage of these info sessions.
Many of the programs have students on the admission committee. The more you learn about the school, its students, the more you will be able to discern the culture and brand of the school and this will help you when you write your application or experience the interview.
Admissions have hub visits (when they come to different parts of the country/world). They even have online webinars and chats which provide information about the school.
The key thing to remember is that admissions board members are people. As with anything in life, outliers stand out.
If in the process of engaging with a board member you are particularly memorable (for good reasons or bad) you will be remembered. Of course the trick is to be remembered for good stuff not bad.