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My MBA In China: A Lesson In Networking

In the second of a series of blog posts, Patrick Harris reveals the main lesson he's learned so far from his MBA experience in China

By  Patrick Harris

Tue Jan 29 2019

Term two: Lessons learned

It’s January and colder than you might expect for Shanghai. 

With the wintry weather comes a cooling off in workload as students gain a reprieve from the onslaught of 'to-do’s' that was term one and two. 

Sitting here six months into my MBA, it’s a time of reflection.

Sure, you have an arsenal of new frameworks for which to use in various business situations, you’ve built up a strong friend base and, particularly here in China, have gained a deep insight into the Chinese business landscape.  

However, the biggest learning for myself has come from outside the classroom. It is a lesson I believe, that all business students need to learn, but a skill few are able to master. I speak of course, about networking.

The art of networking

People talk about MBA’s being 'all about networking' and speak volumes how the contacts you gain is the greatest value you attain from your MBA. I myself, before checking in to my MBA here in China, considered that to be a throwaway line —I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

In June last year, I probably could not have even told you what a network was if you asked …maybe they were talking about the internet? Today I can report that having gone through a long process of self-education at the Hard Knocks Business School (that wasn’t a Harvard typo)/ I am an effective networker who understands now more than ever, the power of being able to talk directly to business. This is how you achieve your goals and open up the 'hidden' job market. 

I believe the smoking gun in real networking is your ability to connect two individuals in such a way that you add value to their business or personal endeavors. As an example, connecting your best friend, a Data Scientist looking to move into Oil and Gas, with a former colleague at your last Oil company looking to get a tech startup off the ground is the perfect way to bring two people together that adds measureable value to both parties.  

For the MBA student, use LinkedIn, your school resources or your former employer to identify where and with whom you might be able to cultivate valuable connections because what’s in it for you is undoubtedly a favour returned in good measure  Interestingly enough, my own experience tells me that this works even with people you have never met, and who are much higher up the food chain than yourself.  

However good your schools’ career services may be, there is no substitute for diligent networking, and however scary it may be to get going at first, once you start you won’t stop.

You get what you give

Now let’s bring the focus back to China. China is a country where getting things done is a function of the strength of relationships…and probably the amount of Baijiu you can drink.  

All jokes aside, for the foreign MBA student in China looking to solidify his or her place in the Middle Kingdom, littering inboxes with CVs must not precede proper time afforded to build relationships with those to whom you reach out.  

In a culture whose social mores place cohesiveness and harmony at the epicenter of interpersonal endeavor, I was lucky to have learned these skills early on. Consequently, I’ve built relationships with the right people here at CEIBS, who have in good faith, brought me into the fold of their network.

I believe that China is where the lion’s share of opportunities lie. Getting the right referral from the right person can open up opportunities you may never have thought possible.

For those pursuing this, your approach should be a long-game relationship-building strategy that seeks to refer targets to your own network where value can be created. Only then, when you are refereed to your target employer thanks to your diligence, will you begin to tap into the 'hidden' job market in China.

As the search for summer internships heats up, I look forward to the opportunities that lie ahead, and to the rest of my time here at CEIBS.

Read Term One: My MBA In China: Expectation Vs Reality


About the author

Patrick Harris's career spans four continents and has been focused primarily on Drilling Engineering and, most recently, Private Equity with a China focus. Patrick is currently undertaking his MBA at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). He holds a Master of Science (Petroleum Engineering) from the University of Stavanger, and a Bachelor of Engineering (Petroleum Engineering) from the University of New South Wales.

Patrick has lived in eight countries and visited over 60. Patrick has volunteered extensively with autistic children and displaced people, both at home and abroad. He is fluent in all three Scandinavian languages and speaks conversational Arabic and Mandarin.