How to build a professional network
Brought to you by the Villanova School of Business
While it’s impossible to put a price tag on high-quality education, it’s not hard to see why the knowledge and skills you learn in the course of your MBA studies constitute only a portion of the degree’s value. Much of the value is derived from the people you meet and collaborate with during the process. Higher education is an excellent avenue to building a diverse network of professional and academic contacts, who can help you advance their skills, find new job opportunities and develop lasting relationships. But getting to that point isn’t always the most intuitive process; building a truly dynamic professional network requires learning a few new skills on your own.
What networking is, exactly
The art of networking spans many different activities and strategies. Professional networking comes in a virtually unlimited number of shapes and sizes, such as:
- Keeping in touch with former coworkers, classmates or professors.
- Meeting with current coworkers, classmates or professors outside of school or work.
- Attending industry events or association meetings.
- Talking to friends and family members about relevant professionals they may know.
Whether structured or informal, networking is something that everyone does, often without thinking about it. But when it comes to building out a robust roster of professional contacts, a little more legwork and strategy is usually necessary.
Finding and attending meetings for professional organizations related to your industry is a great way to meet people and gain insight into your line of work. It can be a daunting prospect for even the most socially confident. With a little preparation, though, these events are often rewarding and productive. Entrepreneur.com listed a few key pieces of advice for networking events:
- Arrive on time. Resist the urge to be fashionably late. You’re here to meet people, so prepare to be a bit more open than you might usually be.
- Ask and listen. Sparking conversation with a stranger is rarely easy to do naturally, but there’s no need to overthink it. Listen just as much as speaking yourself.
- Attendees probably aren’t looking for a sales pitch. Focus instead on discussing what you’re passionate about and why others feel the same way. Openness and a friendly demeanor go a long way to sparking a genuine connection.
- Don’t forget to ask how to stay in touch with someone if you think your conversation could continue later. And of course, make sure to follow up in a day or two.
Perhaps you’ve met some interesting people at a networking event and want to get together again, or you already have an existing contact who could prove helpful. You will need to have personal meetings with your connections to maintain and develop your network.
Coffee and lunch are two tried-and-true venues for networking follow-ups. But according to Margaret Morford, a management consultant and New York Times contributor, too many people forget that the best professional networks are mutually beneficial.
Morford advises following some basic rules for these meetings:
- Come prepared with questions or talking points. Don’t expect to have a casual conversation.
- Meet at a time and place that is convenient for the invited party.
- Insist on buying his or her coffee or meal. It’s a great way to show your gratitude.
- Never argue against any advice provided, or ask the contact for information on intellectual property or copyrighted materials.
- Volunteer for some way you can return the favor.
Perhaps the crux of this advice, and networking in general, is that it should be as close to reciprocal as possible. While professional relationships are necessary and often form spontaneously, developing and maintaining useful ones require considerable time and effort. That’s why graduate programs are a great avenue through which professionals can grow their network and leverage contacts for assistance.
The Villanova MBA program provides students the resources they need to build the personal connections that will prove invaluable in the workforce. It’s common for MBA classmates to develop strong bonds that last long after graduation, and these can prove extremely helpful both during and after leaving the program.
To learn more about the Villanova MBA program and the benefits of smart networking, visit our online information page and contact a representative with additional questions.Recommended Readings: