Business school is a great place to start building your contact base. “The business school community is like an airport—there’s so many different people flying in and flying out, so it's a perfect place to engage in networking,” says professor Omid Aschari, managing director of the University of St.Gallen’s Master in Strategy and International Management (SIM).
No matter what career stage you’re at, understanding how to network effectively will be key for your future success. Here are three tips for boosting your professional network:
1. Be authentic in your approach
Demonstrating an interest in your colleagues, peers, and professional contacts can go a long way.
For Omid (pictured right), networking shouldn’t be about forging transactional relationships. “Networking is about a sharing of meaning. The more noble your objectives are, the more potential there is that you’ll build long-lasting relationships within your network,” he says.
To build meaningful relationships, you’ll need to express a genuine interest in other people’s unique perspectives and talents rather than using your peers as a launchpad for your career.
You might also want to consider how you can help others, such as listening to a colleague’s new business idea. “What you put into networking is what you’ll get out of it,” says Omid.
Business school offers an environment where you can forge genuine long-term relationships with like-minded peers. Programs like the SIM, the St.Gallen MiM, offer community events that help foster these deeper connections.
The SIMopoly is a treasure hunt trail across the Swiss city of St.Gallen that helps you go beyond awkward small-talk with your classmates. There’s also more informal events where you can try your hand at cooking a meal from a different culture.
These events provide a great opportunity to learn about your peers while working on a shared task that provides plenty of talking points.
2. Go out of your comfort zone
Change often begins at the end of your comfort zone. This is especially the case when it comes to networking at business school. If you only ever approach people you know, you could be missing out on meeting your future business partner or someone with links to your dream industry.
Originally from Germany, Corinna Leist (pictured below) had to build a network from scratch when she moved to Switzerland for business school. The SIM has been pivotal in helping push alumna Corinna out of her comfort zone, equipping her with the skills to thrive as a consultant at McKinsey Digital.
She credits the experiences of hands-on SIM initiatives like the SIMagination Challenge—a signature course where students collaborate in groups to take on sustainable impact projects across the globe—as helping her to become an effective networker.
Corinna completed the project in Guatemala, helping to build clean toilet facilities there. Learning ways to navigate the language barrier while in Guatemala has helped boost Corinna's communication skills, confidence, and ability to think on her toes. She believes these tools have helped her succeed in her people-oriented role.
“It was interesting to learn how to build those relationships and how to connect with people who have a very different background than me, and whose life is very different from those who undertake the SIMagination Challenge,” reflects Corinna.
The ability to work alongside people from various backgrounds and cultures is important when communicating with peers within a diverse business school cohort. Taking part in initiatives that remove you from your comfort zone, and serve as great networking experiences, is a sure-fire way to boost your interpersonal skills, ensuring you can maintain connections with people from all walks of life.
3. Be proactive and prepared
Whatever the situation, make sure you arrive ready to network and prepared for networking events.
“You should have a clear idea of who it is you would like to speak to and who has the knowledge or experience in something you’re interested in, and approach that person as directly as possible,” advises Omid.
If you're networking at business school, maybe there’s someone within your cohort who has worked in an industry you want to go into and has some useful information at hand—figuring out who the best people to speak to about various topics will ensure you’re asking the right questions to the relevant people.
For Corinna, studying a Master in Management provided a great opportunity to get to know a group of people with similar interests and goals in mind, ensuring she approached the right people in her business school network when seeking advice about interviewing for her first consulting role at McKinsey.
“It was really beneficial for me to talk to other students who had gone through this experience and who could share how it went for them, how they prepared, and then practice cases together,” she says.
Crafting this strategic yet authentic approach to networking will help you become a skillful networker with a greater chance of landing your dream job. Meanwhile, these conversations will strengthen the bonds you create with your peers. You never know when you might need to call on someone in your network for their advice.