Though networking is a key part of every long-term career strategy, it is something that many people struggle with.
Whether you are planning to apply to business school in the future or are already an MBA/graduate school student, a strong network will position you for success at every stage of your career.
So here are five ways you can network better during your MBA degree:
1. Seek out a mentor at work or during your internship
While mentors can be found everywhere, one of the best places to find a mentor is at the office. By selecting someone you work closely with who knows you well, you will hopefully be able to gather candid feedback on your strengths and weaknesses.
He or she will also be best positioned to identify your strengths and weaknesses and offer career advice that is relevant to your background and goals. Starting your search for a mentor early allows you to take your time to find a mentor who is a good fit for you.
Begin by asking your target mentor out for coffee or lunch and ask him about his career. Let the relationship develop from there.
2. Have meaningful conversations with alums
Reaching out to alums from your current or target school(s) working in your desired field can be extremely beneficial.
Some candidates wonder how many students they should contact—I advise two or three per school, as reaching out to more than that can be overkill! Remember to focus on having quality conversations that give you an authentic picture of what life is like at that school or in that role.
3. Invite someone in your dream role for coffee
Meeting up with strangers can be intimidating but doing so can pay off in the long run.
One way to start is by telling someone you want to learn more about her job and how she got there. Those in your dream roles today were once in your position, and many are happy to help aspiring professionals. The key to these conversations is to learn and to let the relationship grow organically—this is not the time to ask for help getting a job or for a recommendation! Meeting with alumni from your alma mater or friends of friends/family can be an easy starting point.
4. Seek a volunteer position
Look for a meaningful role within an organization that you are passionate about and/or one in your target field.
Consider opportunities to work on team projects or to join a board; this will allow you to connect with other like-minded professionals. Not only will you learn more about your target industry and gain valuable skills and experience, but you will also likely expand your network, developing contacts you can call upon later in your career.
5. Use social media to create digital connections
While networking face-to-face can be a valuable way to meet new people, the reality is that many of the connections you make will be online. This is particularly true if your target schools are not in your current area or if it is hard to find local professionals in your dream role.
Having an updated LinkedIn profile is the bare minimum for creating an effective personal brand for online networking. When messaging other professionals, make sure to personalize it enough so that your message is clear and authentic and not too 'cookie cutter'. Following your target schools and firms on Twitter can also help you stay on top of the latest news and trends which can help you stand out in both your future applications and interviews.
Scott Edinburgh is an MBA admissions expert for Personal MBA Coach, a consulting agency he founded ten years ago. Scott has an MBA from The Wharton School and has previously worked as a consultant at Deloitte; he also sits on the board of the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants.