In the face of the economic downturn, business students and experts alike are urging a more professional and creative approach to networking to get you where you want to be in your career.
With traditional recruitment events
on campuses down this year, and hiring numbers expected to plummet
by as much as 70.9% in the finance industry and 31.3% in business services, student William Lamain, 27, advocates a less orthodox approach to connect with people.
Whenever you have something in common with a person there’s a chance to interact, says the student of Finance at London Business School. Whether through cycling clubs or local ex-pat circles, there are tons of places to meet new and potentially important people. “You can approach anyone, but find something genuinely in common to network effectively.” is the attitude Lamain advocates.
Hamish Forsyth, who graduated from Judge Business School in Cambridge last year, also suggests that going broad rather than narrow is crucial these days. While alumni networks and your MBA class are important places to make connections, what employers are really looking for are people with a variety of skills and a diverse set of interests. “When I was at business school I used to hang out with people from the wider university, with engineers and lawyers for instance.” By getting to know other people’s ways of working and solving problems you not only gain new knowledge, but also find out what’s so special about your own skills and abilities.
It also makes you a more fun and interesting person to be around: “That extra bit of experience is what has made me attractive to employers,” claims Forsyth, who is a senior advisor in the UK Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit. “Imagine being stuck at the airport with your boss for four hours. Would you want to bore them to death by talking about accounting all the way through?” A sincere interest in your chosen industry is key. Only being interested in the biggest pay rise, adds Forsyth, is not going to get you very far. He is currently setting up a business to help undergraduate students network.
Experts also stress the importance of less formal ways of networking. Ivan Kerbel, Senior Associate Director of MBA Career Management at Wharton Business School, says that networking should not only be about getting a job. It is also about learning from others. “A lot of alumni have experienced economic downturns before. Getting to know how they coped with the challenges can help you to get through the current problems – and in the end it will make your hunt for a job more fun and less solitary.”
But while networking is essential to survive the job market, some express doubts about how effective it really is in the current economic situation. “Even great networking may quite likely fail to get you a job in today’s times. If there is no job, you’re not going to get a job, no matter how hard you try,” says a recent graduate of Insead Paris. She was known in her class as “NPE” or “Networker Par Excellence”. However, she adds, networking might at least get you an interview: “If you weren’t networking, you would get nothing.”
Even with less traditional ways of networking, professionalism is essential. MBA graduates being expensive people to employ, you need to leave a perfect impression with a prospective employer. “Selectivity is growing,” observes William Lamain. “Employers are paying more attention to things like spelling and the structuring of a CV.”
While books and workshops are a good way to learn how to network, in the end it is your personality that needs to convince. Even if small talk is not one of your natural talents, “be brave, approach people you don’t know directly, and move out of your comfort zone,” urges Hamish Forsyth. “Although you will be turned down at times, more often than not people will be flattered by your interest and will agree to have a chat over a coffee.”
The Insead graduate also stresses the importance of judging when to praise yourself, and when to keep a more humble profile. She remembers having lunch with the CEO of a consumer electronics giant when she was at INSEAD, and being clueless as to what to say to him. She asked her fellow students in an email for suggestions. “It turned out that the man was Italian, quite charismatic and charming towards women.” During their lunch, she asked him about his experiences of living in a country which was not his own, expressed her admiration for what he had done for his company, and made sure that they had a nice conversation.
“There’s no point in showing off what’s so great about you”, she says. “The CEO is not the one who will hire you. What you should be thinking about instead is: how do I make sure he answers that email I will send him tomorrow morning?”
For tips on how to network, click here
And... for a guide to writing emails to alumni that will (almost) guarantee you a response, click here