Build Your MBA Network Before Business School

Apr 8, 2014
Tags: Admissions Process, Applications

Submitted by Nicole Lindsay, a career development expert who is working on her first book about women and business school. She is a former MBA admissions officer, MBA recruiter and non-profit executive. Connect with Nicole at @MBAMinority.

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Ask MBA applicants to list the advantages of business school and most will include access to the “MBA Network” as one of the top benefits. MBA programs have produced alumni who are incredibly successful based the wealth that they have been able to create, the impact that they have been able to make and the unique problems that they have been able to solve. These alumni, working in various industries and sectors, have jobs and career paths that MBA candidates want to emulate. With access provided by their business schools, MBA students can find mentors, business associates, and future employers among these dynamic alumni.

While the MBA network is invaluable to MBA students, you shouldn’t wait until you are on campus to begin building your MBA network. In fact, having your MBA network in place before you even submit your business school applications will give you a significant advantage in the application process as well as down the road when you are securing an internship or full-time job.

Strengthen Your MBA Applications

As you complete your MBA applications, your aim should be to present yourself in the most compelling way possible. You want to persuade the Admissions Committee to admit you to the MBA program by showcasing your dynamic experiences and accomplishments, exciting them with your future career goals, and highlighting why their school is the right fit for you. Your MBA network can play a critical role in making that happen.

Each business school provides guidelines for candidates applying to their programs, but through conversations with MBA Admissions Officers you can learn their unwritten rules and expectations for candidates. Admissions Officers will readily share their tips and suggestions, for example, on who are the best recommenders or how to effectively use the optional essay. While Admissions Officers will give you the inside application scoop, professionals can give you the inside career scoop. MBA alumni can provide you with examples of their different jobs and career paths. This, along with their insight about how having an MBA has been beneficial in their careers, will enable you to articulate credible career goals in your MBA essays and interviews.

Select the Best MBA Programs for You

There are so many great MBA programs, but only a small subset will be the right fit for you. By engaging your MBA network, particularly MBA students and alumni, you can determine how different MBA programs could support you in achieving your professional goals and whether the school’s culture is consistent with what you want and need from an MBA program. Of course, initial conversations are helpful, but as you cultivate deeper relationships you can ask more probing and personal questions to gather information to help select the right MBA programs. As you talk with MBA students and alumni, you may find that the school you thought was your best fit truly isn’t suitable for you and one you hadn’t considered a strong contender might become your top choice school.

Position Yourself for MBA Internship and Job Search

During the MBA application process, you will meet alumni from various MBA programs. Some may be working in industries or fields that are related to your short-term and long-term career aspirations. You will find it useful to cultivate relationships with them to strengthen your MBA applications, but also to begin to position yourself for the internship and full-time job search that you will go through as an MBA student. Business schools often host admissions receptions to market their MBA programs to candidates. They invite their local alumni to network, share their professional experiences, and softly “sell” the program to MBA candidates. While these alumni only committed to volunteering two to three hours for that reception, many are open to communicating with you beyond the event. Consider requesting an informational interview from an alumnus to learn more about his or her industry or how to successfully transition to the field. At this point, you are just asking for information, but continue to maintain the relationship and in the future, you could have a strong resource for job opportunities.

Like in business school, relationships don’t form themselves. You must be proactive in building your MBA network. Initiate relationships at school-hosted events by introducing yourself to admissions officers, students and alumni. Ask thoughtful questions and engage in conversation to build rapport; this will increase your chances of connecting after that event. Introductions are great, but follow-up is where lasting relationships begin. Whether at admissions events or by contacting the school directly, ask for what you want. If you are interested in non-profit management, ask to be connected with alumni in that field. You’ll find that many alumni are very open to this type of interaction.