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Network your way to success

 

Did you know that one of the most effective ways to find a job is through the connections you have within the firm that you are applying for, and the people they can introduce you to? If you have the right qualifications and skills, right networking can almost guarantee a foot in the door.

 
 

According to LinkedIn, ‘More than 70% of professionals get hired at companies where they have a personal connection’. In the present world, where job-portals and head-hunters are in abundance, the above claim may seem only an exaggeration. But the scary fact for job-seekers is that on average, every corporate job opening attracts over 250 résumés, translating into 4-6 of them receiving an interview call, which culminates into 1 job offer [based on Glassdoor report]. This is only for the jobs that are posted or advertised. A huge proportion of corporate jobs goes unadvertised and is usually filled by employee referrals. Based on India Recruiting Trends 2016 study, conducted by LinkedIn Talent Solutions, nearly 55% of recruiters utilise employee referral programmes as the top source of quality hire.

What is networking?
Networking is when two or more persons exchange information, contacts, and experience for professional or social purposes. Because of the personal nature of networking, for each person, the definition, purpose and utility of networking is bound to be different. You may choose to network to make new friends, find a new job, extend your hobby, develop you current career, find sales leads, explore new career options, obtain job referrals, or broaden you professional horizons or any combinations of these objectives.
Networking is one of the most valuable things a current or aspiring MBA student can do to boost their career. A recent annual survey of MBA applicants conducted by the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants (AIGAC) revealed that 48% of the respondents mentioned ‘access to a strong network’ as their reason for pursuing an MBA. The top-2 reasons given were ‘the desire to acquire new skills and knowledge about business’ (57% respondents) and ‘access to job prospects’ (49% respondents). It is clear that MBA students and graduates realise the value that networking can bring in the form of career advancement, job-search and mentorship.

When should you start networking?
You have been networking all your life, perhaps without even knowing. Your friends, family, family-friends, and professors etc., all are part of your network. The only difference is whether you are networking actively or passively.
As an MBA student, it would be great if you can start networking as early, in the MBA course as possible. Ideally, you should start doing it even before your course commences. Why? Because if you have networked with the B School alumni prior to joining the program, they can guide you about your interest and program fit; they can help you in selecting the best courses; and they can give you insight information about the B School and its culture etc.
When you start the programme, your classmates form your immediate network. Investing your effort with them will yield results later on, as they move to high-level positions in corporate or start their own businesses. Your MBA classmates can help you when you change industries by giving you insights about their industry functions, they can introduce you to their reporting managers and help you advance your career etc.

Networking with B-School Alumni
Most of the B Schools have invested in maintaining an extensive alumni network. As the current student, you will have an access to this network for a variety of objectives – from mentorship to career advancement. The B-School Alumni Network is probably the best resource in securing your first job post-MBA, because over a period of time, the alumni must have spread across a variety of industries and functions and can help you with any kind of career.
The alumni can be connected by e-mail or telephone. Some of them may agree to offer help by giving an ‘information interview’ (explained further below) to the MBA student who aims to follow their footsteps, by talking about their work, industry, and their past, including how they started career and how it has developed. A few alumni also offer help by preparing MBA students for the job interview and giving them valuable knowledge of their company and industries.

How to approach any contact
More often than not, the first contact is made with an e-mail. Please remember that professionals today are bombarded with loads of emails every day, and it won’t be easy to grab their attention. However, with an effective and interesting subject line you can increase the chances that your e-mail will be opened. If you were referred by someone, you should mention the connecting person and send the e-mail to them as a copy, or you can include the name of the mutual acquaintance who gave you the contact.
This first e-mail should be short and to-the-point. It should include your brief description and background, and should explain the reasons why you are getting in touch and what you expect from the addressee. You should also give your contact information and thank the addressee for their time.
Do not attach your CV and do not ask for a job in this e-mail. The objective of the first contact must be to have a face-to-face meeting or a telephone conversation. If the addressee agrees to talk over phone, make a call at the agreed date & time of convenience. Your telephone conversations should also be concise and clear, stating your specific goals and trying to get as much information as possible about your area of interest.
This is often known as ‘information interview’, where you interview your contact to get a deeper insight into your intended career, and to obtain their advice or suggestions. It is advised that you do some preliminary research about the career and industry and avoid wasting their time by asking unnecessary questions. You can also prepare a list of relevant questions about the company and the job in order to find out what skills you need to develop in order to be hired.
Ideally, the informational interview should be about 15-20 minutes long. You should not ask for a job, but just for information. It would be polite to send a follow-up note thanking the interviewee for their time.

Other avenues to network - Recruiting events & Social Networking
Some B-schools may organise events that include informational or social events such as luncheons, dinners, case competitions, guest lectures, and corporate presentations. These events are usually open to all the MBA students. As an MBA student you should choose which events to participate in to meet the people with whom you want to network. With a specific goal in mind, you should prepare to make a personal connection with the targeted people and include details about your background and credentials fluidly into the conversation, which should not last more than 10 minutes.
Social networking, such as using LinkedIn a professional online network, is another way to connect with professionals in industries and or functions where you aspire to be. You can subscribe to their paid services to unlock the full networking potential. Apply the same principals and best practices as described above in the ‘How to approach any contact’ section.

Few words of advice
It is important to have good soft-skills to make your networking effective; however, not everyone arrives at B-School with the best soft skills. Here, you can take the help of the careers services of your B-School and work on effective speech, confidence and even humility. It must be understood that networking may not come naturally to many people, but still the networking skills can be improved with right inputs and training.
Networking is probably the most powerful career tool you have at your disposal, but if you use it incorrectly you won’t build an effective network. The key thing to remember is that networking is fundamentally about people. To do it successfully, you need to build personal connections and never be brash or rude. People will notice if you only get in touch when you expect something from them.
It takes time to develop a solid network, so establishing a personal connect is important. Try and find common interests and remember the best connections you make will be with people you like. It is worthwhile keeping a log of people you wish to keep in your network, and making notes of personal details, such as birthdays. You could also consider sending them links to news items you think they would find interesting from time to time.
Fundamentally, networking is a long-term investment and it takes time to nurture a strong network that knows you and trusts you. This cannot be rushed, so giving it a head-start will help you. If you begin only when you start your job-search or need help, your network will feel exploited. 

“Succeeding in business is all about making connections. While we at the Virgin Group have never hired anybody whose job description was limited to making internal and external contacts, it is implicit that almost everyone on staff has these skills. This has helped Virgin to expand into so many different industries, from music to mobile phone services: As we build connections in other areas, we have been able to grow our expertise and multiply our reach.”
- Sir Richard Brandson, entrepreneur and businessman

“The richest people in the world look for and build networks, everyone else looks for work.”
- Robert Toru Kiyosaki is an American businessman and author

“It isn’t just what you know, and it isn’t just who you know. It’s actually who you know, who knows you, and what you do for a living.”
- Bob Burg, Best-selling Author of Endless Referrals and The Go Giver

“Networking is an essential part of building wealth.”
- Armstrong Williams is an American political commentator, entrepreneur and author