Some call it their “core competency” (read: bread and butter), while others call it institutionalized socializing and a waste of time. If you’re serious about getting your MBA, hopefully you identify more with the former characterization than the latter characterization.
Even if networking isn’t your strong suit, don’t worry. Students at Smith are exposed to networking events during the admissions process (e.g. prospective MBA happy hours and admitted student dinners), first year orientation (e.g. the “speed networking” evening session), and the academic year (e.g. national MBA conferences). The work pays off. Many of my cohorts and I speak to recruiters with ease because we have a well-crafted personal narrative (and the experience necessary to employ that narrative without sounding like a robot).
I recently attended a networking event as part of an assignment for my strategic management class with one of my teammates, and our experiences that night are an interesting example of how successful networking requires a mix of prior research and situational observations, and also a mix of business and pleasure.
The event is for local artists, held at the Sirius XM headquarters in Washington, DC. As my teammate and I metro over to the event, we discuss what we are looking to accomplish. We want to talk to a few Sirius XM employees and tell them about our assignment, perhaps ask them a question or two about their business plan, but mostly engage them in conversation and exchange business cards. The idea is to secure an informational interview, not attempt to conduct one right then and there.
The event is a mixture of socializing and commentary from the featured artists. The MC for the evening is the VP of HR for Sirius XM—definitely someone I want to talk to. I make sure to pay attention to the presentations. After all, the art and artists are the reason behind the event, it’s a great way to start a conversation, and maybe I’ll learn something new (I got a preview of the 30 Americans exhibit currently on display at the Corcoran, definitely worth checking out).
Immediately after he ends a presentation, the head of HR (Walt) puts the mic down and heads over to me. I’m ready. Ready to engage him on the artists, on the wine I’m drinking, on the Smith School, on Sirius XM—whatever comes my way. Interestingly, he wants to talk about my Smith School nametag. He had recently attended a national MBA conference and was impressed at how well our tags stood out.
We chatted about that for a minute or two before I mentioned my assignment. Walt was interested, and answered a few questions before we exchanged cards. Walt also introduced my teammate and I to another employee. We talked art and wine with her for a while, and ultimately she agreed to meet with us and discuss our project further.
The night was a success. My teammate and I drank wine, appreciated art, and made headway on an assignment. That’s networking and, honestly, who could call that a waste of time?