MBAs and the power of networking

Building and nurturing contacts is vital, says Helena Pozniak

Explaining to MBA students the importance of networking is like preaching to the converted – half the reason many of them are there is to rub shoulders with future business leaders. In fact networking, once colonised by sales professionals, has become a core activity so critical to success that business schools devote chunks of the curriculum to it, or even – in the case of Cass Business School in London – appoint a networking professor.

"Even the best business minds need to practise their learning in the field – the field of actually going out and making connections which happen away from the desk," says Julia Hobsbawm, who's working with Cass to develop a networking strand for MBA classes.

In doubt of why it's important? One MBA student reports chatting to a fellow skier as he strapped on his skis in the Swiss Alps – by the time he reached the bottom of the slopes, he had a job offer from a venture capitalist. Another student swears by upgrading to business class on flights – he estimates he recoups the cost of an upgrade at least three times on each journey by the contacts he makes.

Business school graduates – many too senior for corporate recruitment schemes – will inevitably turn to their networks for employment. In fact employers are recruiting ever more by referrals and networks – research shows more than 90 per cent of UK employers use social media to find staff. Well-networked individuals are highly employable – in fact they might soon become the most valued in the job market, says Hobsbawm.

Not everyone arrives at business school with the soft skills to charm. Careers services say they work with students sometimes to nurture humility, sometimes confidence. Schools such as London Business School (LBS) offer expert-led workshops on how to network effectively at recruitment events and much more. "Networking can be improved even for those without the natural inclination to do it," says Cana Witt, MBA careers advisor at Lancaster University Management School. "It's about positioning yourself to be at your most interesting and finding people who will be interesting to you."

Fundamentally, networking is a long game. Careers advisers stress the time it takes to nurture a solid network – at its most basic, a getting them "to know you, like you, then trust you" approach. This can't be rushed – allow at least six months. If you begin only when you start to job hunt or need help, your network will feel exploited.

Once you decide what you want to gain from networking – be it kudos, new opportunities, a job or industry knowledge – says Sonia Hendy-Isaac at Birmingham City University, you can be selective about the events you attend. An event peopled by more senior management for example might be better than one pitched at your own level if your purpose is job hunting, she explains.

What business schools do so well is to put students in front of powerful contacts. Henley's new music MBA for example has a steering committee which reads like a who's who of the UK and US music industry, whom students meet and network with. Ashridge recently hosted film-maker Lord Puttnam; Brunel Business School organises speed consulting sessions with invited corporates and Cranfield's careers team give one-to-one coaching on leveraging business links.

Schools encourage students to invite alumni for "coffee chats", attend industry specific events and capitalise on contacts through projects and internships. Andy Lopata, author of several books on networking, recommends consolidating a relationship after the first contact by getting in touch again within a day, then within the week, then the month. Once on the radar, the relationship can afford to coast a little.

But how do you do it? Shameless promotion is bad form, and indiscriminately repeating first names is transparent. One powerful way of reconnecting after the initial meeting is to send over links to news or items which might be interesting, says Lopata, or remember a birthday, even family details. Some students create spreadsheets of contacts, embellished with personal details to give common ground, complete with reminders to get in touch. Men and women may build relationships differently, Lopata notes. "Men are much more comfortable asking for help or requesting an introduction, but we sometimes forget to build the relationship first. Women tend to be much more interested in other people, but less focused on their own needs and more nervous about asking for help."

Inevitably, social media will play a huge part in network building, with Twitter and LinkedIn currently the most career-friendly. However, careers advisers recommend capping time spent online – it creates the illusion of being productive yet may prove ineffective if it's not backed up with face-to-face contact. "I wouldn't dream of putting someone forward for a job unless I'd met them in person, for instance," says Clare Astley from Cass' careers service.

Authenticity counts more than "trophy hunting" contacts. Striking a personal note can create the first bond. "Keep your presence professional but make everything else personal," says Hendy. Ultimately your best contacts will be those you actually like and it goes without saying that listening skills combined with natural curiosity are essential. But so is having something to say beyond your own pitch, say experts. LBS's head of careers Fiona Sandford is frequently shocked by how little students read up on current affairs. Google news is not enough, she urges. MBA cohorts – traditionally the cream of the intellectual crop – should have opinions on the big issues. "You need to show you are worthy and can bring something to the exchange," she says.

Face-to-face contact is vital. I wouldn't put someone forward for a job unless I'd met them in person

Case study: 'It's like a chain reaction'

Anna Plotkina, 32, completed an executive MBA at IE Business School in Spain and now works in logistics in Moscow.

"I have probably more than a thousand contacts in all and know people in pretty much every country. I took an MBA partly to build up and broaden my network – if you're in a good school, you do meet people who are valuable. I always try to build a relationship and offer help without thinking what I might get from it – this can help in the future. It's like a chain reaction. You become valuable as someone who helps make connections. Business school professors know a lot of people and will help you make contacts, and you get to know the people on your programme very well. I make a note of people's personal interests and get in touch regularly. Keep your eyes open and make yourself useful."

One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect