What is a network? Think of your network as a web. Each new contact is a strand which links you, in the middle, to a new spot, a new opportunity. If you start to lose touch with your contacts, these strands break and a tasty fly (or business opportunity) might pass straight through without you capturing it!
Networking is the process of building up these strands to form as big a web as possible, so you can catch more opportunities. The reason why people network during an MBA could be as simple as making friends, or it could be as productive as acquiring new information, sharing knowledge or starting a new business.
A typical MBA network might include your classmates, but a strong network should also incorporate fellow students who are not necessarily your classmates or buddies, as well as school alumni and academic staff.
Even if you are a recent MBA grad from a top school, you still need a more experienced network to test and validate ideas. In a research project headed by Dr. Jim Pulcrano at IMD, 766 participants were asked various questions concerning networking. Dr. Pulcrano shared some of the findings, “The motivation for networking for the majority (64%) of the entrepreneurs in my Swiss study was obtaining resources not currently possessed.”
He went on to say that “More interesting was the difference in second priorities. Whereas first-time entrepreneurs saw “building reputation” as the second most important motivation for networking (at 13%), experienced old-timers listed reputation building last (8%), but saw ‘testing and validating ideas’ as their second most important priority (20%).”
So, don’t just think of your network as a badge of honor, think of it as a valuable resource for improving your business by challenging your current processes and procedures.
The Work Doesn’t Stop After Your MBA
People recognize the need to build a network, especially for MBA students, who will be rubbing shoulders with the business leaders of tomorrow. But what many don’t appreciate is that the connections they’ve built need maintaining – adding them alone is not enough!
Keeping your network hot after your MBA is essential if you want to get ahead. A lot of the time, the strength of your MBA degree itself isn’t going to guarantee you the job you want. Sometimes, a powerful network is needed to open up pathways, as up to 60% of MBA grads have found jobs through connections.
According to author of The Corporate Recruitment Game, Roderick Lewis, “the strength of the alumni network and how far-reaching it is,” is fundamental because business schools in 2016 are now a “global brand.”
What this means is that the business world is less specific these days, and is instead much more diverse, with employees able to find a niche for themselves anywhere on the planet. For this reason, keeping your network hot is crucial if you want to give yourself a chance of progressing through your career, rising to new challenges and – ultimately – achieving your dreams. Without a strong network, you’re essentially going it alone and in the cut-throat world of business, this is not always the safest option.
But you’ve got this far. You’ve studied for an MBA, passed, and in the meantime you worked the classrooms like a pro and did your fair share of relationship building. As you leave school, your network is strong. To make sure your web is always primed to snare new flies, you need to keep putting in the time and effort to maintain those strands so that your network remains intact. Here are a few top tips:
Every now and then, the key players in your network will arrange an evening out for drinks, especially if they’re your buddies from business school.
Not feeling like going is not a good enough excuse! It’s important that you’re not the odd one out in the group. Remember the person at the networking event who forgot their pen and notebook? You don’t want this to be you.
If you can’t make it for a group meet-up for whatever reason, invite some of the members out for a drink another time. Meet up with people one-one-one for a coffee, or Skype them if your schedules are conflicted. Make the effort to keep in touch.
Don’t Forget The Weak Links
When reaching out to David Burkus, best-selling author, award-winning podcaster, and management professor at Oral Roberts University, he underlined the importance of utilizing your entire network by stating, “Research consistently shows that news about opportunities most commonly comes from weak ties or loose connections, not the close friends who we easily stay in touch with. Your former classmates who’ve gone their own way are going to have far more new information than the 3-5 people you always talk to…so it’s important to at least keep lightly in touch with them.”
Become An Influencer On Social Media
Okay, so you’re not going to become the next James Caan CBE or Richard Branson on LinkedIn, but become influential in your network and you’re going to find that it’s a lot easier to maintain contact.
To do this on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, you first need to make sure your network is following you, and then you need to regularly post relevant and useful content. Zubia Hawcroft, International Director at MSC Headhunters in the United Kingdom, weighed in on the importance of the type of content, “Keep it relevant and send related articles, news clips or pictures to show you are interested in what they are doing.”
She went on to add that keeping mentors in this pool of contacts was extremely important, “I am a big advocate of mentors – they will be honoured to help you along your career path and they will take pride in seeing you succeed. Also they can open up their network to you and offer valuable advice.”
Send Christmas Cards
No, really! Mailing Christmas cards to the people in your network is a simple but wonderfully creative way of staying in touch with your network in today’s digital world. It reminds them that you exist, and it’s a powerful way of getting them to associate you with warmth and positivity. Authenticity is really important when it comes to retaining a network; if your contacts see that you are genuine, they’ll be more inclined to stay in touch.
You should use the inlay of the card to express Christmas wishes, but you should also suggest that you guys meet up soon. Keep the message brief but productive. After all, you’re sending your best wishes, but you also want to get something out of this. So make sure you get it.
Another simple way of reminding your contacts that you’re still around is by leaving messages on some of their social media posts. This proves that you are listening to what they say, and not just blasting out self-promotional blurbs.
Remember that not all comments are created equal. Always leave thoughtful, useful comments that add to the conversation. Your contacts will appreciate your support, and the fact that you took the time out to offer it.
Did we miss any tips? What are your favorite ways to keep your relationships strong and your network hot even after you graduate?
Written by: Gretchen Shaw, Creative Director at G. Shaw Société Indépendante.