Networking more Important than Academics
The most frequent reason that potential MBA applicants cite for wanting to pursue an MBA is gaining an academic grounding in business skills. They are invariably surprised when I tell them that if that’s the only reason they are going to Business School then they are wasting their money. When I then go on to tell them that I don’t really believe in campus placements, they start looking at me like I have suddenly grown two heads ....... until I explain why.
There are so many resources at your fingertips when you are studying at a leading university, whether as an undergraduate or postgraduate, but many potential students don’t realize what they are, how to leverage them and how to go about doing so. One of these resources is the network you gain access to - a network of peers, alumni, faculty and corporations. It’s a phenomenal resource and one that gets stronger over time. In talking to hundreds of potential Indian applicants it’s interesting to find that few of them never really think about the importance of networking or how to use the power of the university network.
While I always knew that networking was important, I think I really learnt what it meant and developed that skill at Business School. And why was that? Well, I was graduating in a recession and there weren’t too many companies hiring, and even fewer were hiring international students. So basically I was forced to – that was my silver lining around a rather large gloomy recessionary cloud. I found that leveraging the Columbia Business School network gave me access to people I wouldn’t normally be able to get, information about job openings that wasn’t widely available, insight into companies that could help you to win a position and finally the credibility that comes from being recommended by a Columbia Alum. But rather than droning on about the benefits of networking, let me share some examples that may bring my point to life.
Urban Legend: The Warren Buffet Story
Now this story has become an urban legend at Columbia Business School and so I am no longer sure which of the facts are totally accurate and which ones are exaggerated, but I do know that the story line is true. And here’s how it goes. One of my classmates was very clear about what his dream job was - to work with Warren Buffet. For those of you who do not know who Warren Buffet is he is world’s wealthiest investor and currently the 3rd richest person in the world. One share in his company, Berkshire Hathaway, would cost you USD 120,000. He is also an alumnus of Columbia Business School. Apparently my classmate, who had solid credentials, felt that he would need to do something to get his attention. So my classmate wrote to Warren Buffet and told him that he would be willing to pay him to do an internship with him – and even enclosed a check to cover the first week of the internship. He got a letter back, returning the cheque, which apparently said that he may have a project for him and suggested that he stop by if he was ever in Omaha.... and of course he was kind enough to return the cheque. Now if you live in New York you probably aren’t making too many plans to visit Omaha. My classmate did. He managed to meet Warren Buffet, get a project, impress him and finally get his dream job. Now don’t go off sending checks to potential employers – it won’t be unique anymore! You should also think about what you can say or do that in that specific case will get their attention or impress them rather just using the same idea for everyone.
Making one of your classes your business
One of my friends’ took a class at Business School that focuses on ‘Personal Creativity’. It helps you find your calling in life – or what we in India would call your dharma. My friend was really inspired by this class and decided to launch his own business in career coaching. He spent hours with his professor, who is now on his board of advisors
Your classmates can become your investors
There are umpteen examples of people raising money to start their business from fellow classmates, professors or alumni.
So, what was my story?
Well, I managed to get two job offers I really liked. And they both happened in rather different ways. I found out about the first job through one of my professors. I was very interested in his class and spent a lot of time talking to him about potential business ideas and asking him for advice about career opportunities. So when he found out that one of the companies he had brought in to talk to his students was looking to hire, he introduced me to them. This company did not hire on campus so I probably would never even have found out about this job opening in the normal course of things.
The second job I found was though a Columbia Alumnus – or actually 3 Columbia Alumni. I had reached out to an Alumnus to set up an informational interview. The informational interview went very well and the alumnus in question, now a close friend, offered to introduce me not only to more people in his company but also to other alumni he knew in other companies. The next day, I picked up the phone and called one of his contacts who worked at another company. The call went well and he mentioned that his company actually may have a job opening. So this Alumnus, let’s call him Alumnus number 2, suggested I first meet with him before he introduced me to other people. Basically he wanted to informally interview me before he recommended me to anyone else – people won’t just blindly recommend you because you are an alumnus, you do still have to impress them! After we met, he checked to see what job openings his company and handed over my resume to the hiring manager – Columbia Alumnus Number 3. Strangely enough, I had spoken to Alumnus Number 3 several months ago and had had a great conversation with her – so she immediately recognized my name and called me in to interview. A prior informational interview, an alumni recommendation, and a really great interview (I had had alot of practise by then!) later, I had another job offer.
So what are some lessons from these stories?
Well firstly it’s about
• Not expecting immediate returns. It’s the combination of your activities that may get you to where you want to go.
• Master networkers realise that networking is a life skill, not just something you do when you want something. Their networking includes connecting with different cultures, ages, special interests groups and networks. They are constantly making strong connections, following up, keeping in touch, identifying and making contact with spheres of influence, and forming win–win strategic alliances and mastermind groups.
• However, influence gained through forming strong networks, and by becoming a sphere of influence, can be a two-edged sword. Master networkers understand that their ongoing success depends on treating their networks and the people within them with respect and integrity. This is one of the reasons why building networks takes time, effort and, most of all, sincerity.
• Great networkers also make heart-to-heart connections with people when they talk to them. Master networkers can smell insincerity from a mile away; they quickly identify people who want to use them, use their good name and benefit from associating with them. I didn’t just make contacts, I made really good friends.
Bill Gates has often spoken of a trilogy of trust – the trust that one person has in another, that is then passed on to the third party. For example, Bob knows, likes and trusts Sue, who knows likes and trusts John. Based on this two-way trust, Bob will be open to discussions or possible connections with John, even though John has never previously had contact with Bob.
So an MBA can help you get the network, what you do with it is of course totally up to you!
About Kavita Singh
Kavita Singh has over 13 years of experience working in the U.S. and India. Kavita is the CEO of FutureWorks Consulting. She is an MBA graduate of Columbia Business School and holds a BA (Hons) from Oxford University. She has worked for leading companies such as Mars, Colgate-Palmolive and Web MD at higher management and consulting roles.Kavita writes for elite publications like the Hindustan Times
FutureWorks Consulting offers array of services for both undergraduate and postgraduate admissions at leading institutes abroad. FutureWorks Consulting also runs NDTV.com’s study abroad center.
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