Networking in MBA – How Do I Start Building My Network From Scratch in B-school?

Dive into the world of MBA networking and discover how building genuine relationships can unlock unparalleled opportunities. Learn from an IIM Udaipur alum’s journey and strategies to navigate the networking maze effectively.

Networking in MBA

What if I told you that networking helped me get job offers from outside the campus even before my placements at IIM Udaipur even started? That’s true. Therefore, I knew I had to write this about Networking in MBA. There’s just too many misconceptions about it out there.

Here’s the thing.

You, as an MBA student, want to make the best of this MBA opportunity that you have. You are probably at one of the top B-schools in the country and I know that navigating the vast landscape of an MBA program can be both exhilarating and daunting. 

While the curriculum, case studies, and group projects form the academic backbone, there’s another crucial element that often gets overshadowed: Networking in MBA.

Now, clearly, it is at the back of your head. You know you have to make time for it. That’s because that’s what you’ve heard everyone around you talk about.

“MBA is about networking! MBA is about what you do outside the classroom!”

But, have you ever found yourself wondering why everyone emphasizes networking so much? 

Well, it’s because networking isn’t just about exchanging mobile numbers at formal events. It’s about building genuine relationships, understanding diverse perspectives, and carving out opportunities that might not even be on the radar yet.

Networking is an exchange of value (explained later as we discuss).

For many MBA aspirants and students, the very thought of networking can be intimidating. 

Questions like, “Where do I start?” or “How do I approach someone without seeming pushy?” are common.

But here’s what you need to know today: Networking in B-school is an art, and like any other skill, it can be honed with the right strategies and mindset. Yes, even if you are a super-reserved and introverted person like me.

In this guide, I will delve deep into the world of MBA networking, offering insights, tips, and actionable steps to help you build a robust network from scratch. Whether you’re an introvert who shies away from large gatherings or someone who loves to mingle, there’s a networking approach tailored for everyone.

So, gear up as we embark on this journey to uncover the true power of networking in the MBA world, ensuring you graduate not just with a degree, but with valuable connections that can boost your career forward.

Is networking in B-schools even important?

The very fact that you are reading this, I know I don’t need to sell you on networking during your MBA. You have your reasons why you think it’s important.

But before I dive into how you do it right, let me establish the ground regarding whether it is genuinely important or not. And what are my reasons why I would recommend it to a student like you? Moreover, is it worth losing your mind for or can you do without it as well?

Here’s what I feel about it. 

If you have made it to a good B-school, and if all you do there is: 

  • study well, 
  • get good grades, 
  • participate in events and, 
  • be a part of a club or committee…

I think you will do a decent job in justifying to any recruiter what you did during your MBA and you will get a good job as well.

In fact, some of the recruiters may not even care about it unless they’ve been MBAs themselves.

But, yes, you can do much better for your career and for your growth if you think beyond just attending lectures and submitting assignments. Networking is one of the most valuable outside-classroom things that you can do.

Networking is about making connections that last a lifetime. 

Here are my quick 5 points of why networking is such a big deal:

  1. Unlocking career opportunities

Networking is like having an inside track. Through the people you meet, you can discover job openings, internships, or projects that might not be advertised to the general public. It is true. And it pays off only in the longer term.

  1. Gaining real-world insights

When you interact with alumni or industry professionals, you get a firsthand look into the current career landscape. Their experiences offer invaluable lessons and insights that no textbook or even faculty can ever cover. After all, these alumni are doing what you intend to do!

  1. Personal development

Every conversation and every interaction in networking helps you grow. It sharpens your communication skills, broadens your perspective, and builds your confidence. 

Simply put, it’s a safe space for you to test out how would you conduct yourself in front of someone who is important in the corporate world. You have the leeway to mess it up as well (after all “you’re just a student”). But if you do it even half-decently well, your confidence will improve.  

  1. A supportive group of mentors

The MBA journey has its challenges. But with a strong network, you have mentors to guide you, peers to collaborate with, and alumni who’ve walked the path you’re on. It’s reassuring to know you’re not alone.

Trust me, you will need them if you genuinely seek a high-growth start. Never assume you and your hostelmates know it all. In most cases, you don’t.

  1. Access to exclusive resources

A well-connected network can introduce you to specialized workshops, industry reports, or even global conferences. It’s about staying updated and always being a step ahead.

Frankly, you might require this kind of help rarely in your career. But yes, there could be some days when you need that special expensive research report for the report your boss asked you to present.

Or you might want to talk to an industry expert in a certain domain. That person could be in your network already!

Laying the foundation – The ultimate B-school networking strategy

I’ve been through the MBA grind, and I’ve seen, read, and heard about countless strategies for networking. 

Frankly, I can do the same right now, just give you a laundry list of the ‘time-tested strategies for networking’. But, we all know, there would be nothing new in that list that you would not have read or heard anywhere else.

Therefore, if there’s one piece of advice I’d give you, it’s this: “Dig your well before you’re thirsty.” It’s a principle I swear by, and it’s transformed the way I approach networking.

If you were to forget everything else that I told you in this discussion and if you were to retain only one thing, then this is that one thing “Dig your well before you’re thirsty”.

Why is this advice so close to my heart?

1. It’s a two-way expressway, not a one-way street

Networking is not just for you to be a greedy and needy MBA student or professional who can go just knock on the doors of any industry professional anytime and ask whatever favor you want.

It’s not just a one-way street for you to walk towards your destination.

Just imagine how many other students like you would be sending emails to industry professionals asking for jobs. They’d think of you to be no more than a leech who is mailing for a job in the garb of ‘networking’.

Therefore, remember that it is a two-way street. You need to build a relationship when you don’t need anything from them.

You would wonder “If it is a two-way street, what do I have to offer to an industry professional?”.

I will tell you what you have. You can give them the respect and the honor by asking them to mentor you.  

2. Networking isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. 

I learned really early during my MBA that it’s about sowing seeds today and reaping benefits maybe months or even years later. By starting early, you’re setting yourself up for future success.

It would be really narrow-minded of you to think that your network is only valuable and useful for you to find your next job. 

You have no idea, your network is going to be much more valuable to you a couple of years down the line than it will be for you right now. And that’s also, the stakes are going to be higher later on when you will be asking for bigger ‘favors’ (and also will be ‘granting’ bigger favors).

3. Trust matters

Over the years, I’ve realized that trust is the cornerstone of any relationship. And how do you build trust? By being consistent, genuine, and patient.

If you think sending a LinkedIn request or an email to a company executive asking for a CV review or directly for a job is networking, then I am sorry it’s just you being an opportunist.

And that’s absolutely fine as long as it serves you, but the fact is, don’t expect that person to be picking up your next phone call. That’s because there’s no trust in this relationship.

Making the Most of Networking Opportunities in MBA

Now, here is where I will give you some practical, ready-to-use networking strategies and tactics for your MBA journey.

Here are some networking in MBA strategies that have worked for me, my friends, and my students at B-schools.

1. Networking with Peers

Students from different work experiences, different academic backgrounds, and different life experiences – all of them mature – come together at a campus. Isn’t that interesting? It is.

And that is what makes the MBA life a lovely life. 

However, if you were to ask me, this is the kind of networking that I give the least importance to. My point is, that in a B-school, if you are in the same batch, you will find numerous opportunities to connect.

Here’s how it works.

Across your two years of MBA, you will be working with a different set of people from your batch.

  • A few will be in your study groups. That is 5 people per study group and a new study group in every term
  • Many people will be your classmates in the electives that you take up in the first or second year
  • Many will be your dorm/hostel mates and are likely to bond there
  • Few will be in the clubs and committees that you join and you will connect there

The point is, don’t go in with the mindset of ‘networking’ when it comes to your batchmates. Just think about:

  • Meaningful conversations
  • Brainstorming on assignments
  • Helping each other on the projects 
  • Conceptualizing programs and events
  • Discussing personal lives over different meals
  • Hanging out in the city whenever you find the chance

That’s all. 

However, please note that while I am recommending you not fret about networking, I am not even stressing about making ‘friends’. And there’s a reason why.

Most MBA aspirants, when they get into the B-schools, they start cribbing and crying about “Hey, we don’t have friends”, “I don’t have any friends here”, and “Oh god, I can’t make friends”

You become attention-hungry, or ‘friend-hungry’ at the least. And you think that if you don’t make friends how will you succeed at networking among peers?

I will repeat what I said above but in different words. 

Even if you were not to make a single friend during your MBA, you will always find help whenever you need it. The reason is that just by virtue of the fact that you are a part of a close community (say, an IIM), that’s a big enough reason for anyone else from that community to help you.

And it happens all the time.

Your alumnus has never been with you on the campus. For all you know, they would have never even seen you.

But, don’t you think they’’ jump to help you whenever you need them? They will and they do.

That’s because now you are in a community.

So, don’t fret about friendships in B-school. Neither fret about networking with your batchmates. Focus on the good times and moments, which I also listed above. And you are likely to pick some good friends, acquaintances, and buddies along the way.

Remember this mantra and let’s move to the next.

2. Leveraging the MBA Alumni Network

Networking with alumni during your MBA program is undoubtedly crucial. It could be a game-changer.

Here, please note that while referring to the ‘alumni’ I am also including your immediate seniors in that.

There are some really big benefits of building good relationships with your alumni.

In the short term, networking with MBA alumni will help you in:

  • Understanding the MBA life much better
  • Discussing anything that is causing stress 
  • Finalizing your resume with valuable CV points
  • Navigating through a lot of subjects/electives in an easier manner
  • Figuring out strategies for summer internships and final placements

In the long term, networking with these MBA alumni could help you:

  • Get job referrals
  • Have a mentor who has been there
  • Have someone you can discuss ideas with
  • Be a co-founder of a startup venture that you may plan

These may all sound generic to some of you, but trust me these are real benefits and some of the best B-schools make use of networking for this.

Again, I must remind you that the best form of networking is when it’s a two-way relationship. Both parties need to be givers and receivers at some point of time in the relationship.

How do you properly network with your alumni? Here are some of the most practical tips that I have figured out from my MBA days at IIM Udaipur.

I. Connect on LinkedIn right when you’re an aspirant: If you are an MBA aspirant, you can start at that level itself. Have a target B-school in mind? Find their current students and alumni on LinkedIn and reach out to them. 

Seek their mentorship and guidance. Ask them questions that are important for you and their opinion on it can make a difference. Don’t ask questions you could Google the answers to. For example, “How much was the average package this year?”, “Which company picked the most students?”

You can find all of that in the placement reports.

Instead, ask them for their opinions and insights that only someone who has experience can give you. For example, “How to manage time for my CAT prep if I am in an on-field sales job like you were”. Specific and not easily findable.

II. Attend the city-wise meetups B-schools organize: Almost all good B-schools now organize city-wise meetups for MBA aspirants who have a final call/shortlist from that B-school.

Therefore, if you are joining that B-school, this could be a great event to attend. Again, the kind of questions you ask is the key.

In fact, here’s a contrarian view that most won’t tell you. At times, the best way to network and build relationships is by not barging in with a list of questions and pressuring your alumnus to reply to them.

Most times, they would love to just talk, and share their experience and someone who can listen will have a lot to gather. Therefore, listen well and let the questions follow from that.

That will make up for a greater conversation than one that is planned to the core.

III. Designate a mentor and tell them: I always tell to my students that they need to quickly finalize their target career which means your target job role and industry. There is no novelty or smartness in being an explorer.

If you are not finalizing your goal early on, then what’s the point of any placement preparation that you may be doing? Without a goal, there is no progress.

However, if you do follow that advice then there is also a next step to that which is solid networking advice. Find a senior/alumni of yours who is exactly on that same career path. Connect with them and tell them how highly you think of them and that you have accepted them as your mentor.

I am not even kidding, you have to hype them up. That’s how the world works. And frankly, they are worth the hype. That’s because they already have what you want.

So, this could be a senior right on your campus or an old alumni. Anybody. Connect with them and find one or two mentors.

IV. Attract the right alumnus with your body of work: This is a very unique thought and because I have done it, I can tell you it works like nobody’s business.

In the section before this where I told you about some fundamentals, I told you that networking is a two-way street. Or let me say it, meaningful networking is a two-way street. This means even if you are a junior to someone you need to have something to give.

I also told you about how you need to choose a domain, a dream job and that is really the starting point of any meaningful networking. That’s because only then you will build the right network.

Now, when you follow that path, the path of finalizing your dream job, then starting your blog on it, creating content on it, and displaying your skills by learning in public, you will become extremely visible to everyone.

Here’s all you need to do.

Whenever you create a new content piece in your field, say a blog post on some topic in Marketing on your blog, share it with your alumnus on the alumni email. Or, if you have already followed my advice in the first point of adding enough relevant alumni on your LinkedIn, you can share the posts there.

The idea is that the alumni who are interested in that sphere of work will connect with you.

Frankly, this is not even a long-term bet. Send your next 3 blog posts to your alumni and see a few of them get in touch with you about how they find your work.

V. Alumni Reunions: Now, here’s the thing. Whatever pieces of advice I gave above, you are likely to connect with these alumni only digitally unless these are your immediate seniors on your campus.

And just like some would say there’s no fun in long-distance relationships which end up being virtual for the most part of their tenure, there is no fun in only digital meetups.

Think of it, alumni reunions are probably one of the only times when you will meet your alumni in real life.

Each year, every B-school organizes an alumni meetup and it happens on campus. At IIM Udaipur this event is called Flashback (apt name for an event that gives you trips down the memory lane). 

This is that weekend of the year when alumni come on campus. And here’s why you need to be more proactive. Connect with more alumni.

You know, your alumnus may or may not respond to you online on LinkedIn or on emails, because obviously, the more successful they are the busier they will be. But when they are on campus, there’s an extra love that they are feeling about their B-school.

It’s probably the best time they would be most generous to help their B-school juniors. Ask and be ready to get surprised at what you can get.

3. Building Relationships with Faculty

This is so underrated that I had to tell you about it. No one talks to you about networking with your faculty.

That is not even considered to be part of the usual networking thought that you as an MBA student would have. But then this is what is going to set you apart.

Let me tell you why your faculty are, probably, even more crucial than some of the industry professionals that you lose your sleep for the sake of networking.

  • Most of your faculty know the best of your alumni – Believe it or not, the most sincere alumni are still in touch with some of your faculty. It’s like a backchannel to reach those alumni. Like a hotline that the presidents of two countries would have.
  • Some of your faculty are actually industry practitioners – Especially in the second year, the faculty that come to your campus for some of the electives are not full-time faculty members. They are industry experts who love connecting with bright students like you. 

What better than having those industry professionals right on your campus every week and they are actually welcoming interactions with students? Therefore, go for it.

  • Your faculty is well connected in the industry – Some of your faculty members are pure academics but the industry often hires such academics for business consulting. Again, that makes them closely connected to the best of the companies.
  • Interesting personal lessons – Your faculty has seen both worlds more than you, the world inside your B-school and the world outside in the industry. The classroom might not always be the best place for them to bring out some interesting insights. You would be surprised what interesting lessons they would have to share with you when you connect 1-to-1.

So, the question is how do you network with these unsung heroes of your MBA journey? While students often see them as the bearers of grades and assignments, there’s a treasure trove of opportunities hidden behind those academic robes.

  1. The First Step: It all begins with a simple ‘Hello’. Remember the first day of your MBA? The overwhelming mix of excitement and nervousness? Your professors felt it too. They were looking forward to a new batch of bright minds, eager to mold them into future leaders. So, take that step. Approach them after class, discuss a topic that intrigued you, or even share a relevant article you recently read. This simple gesture can open doors to deeper conversations.
  1. Classroom Interactions: Every question you ask, and every perspective you share, adds a layer to your relationship with the faculty. They notice students who are genuinely interested. And trust me, they appreciate it. It’s not about being the ‘teacher’s pet’; it’s about showcasing your passion for the subject.
  1. Beyond the Classroom: Many professors are involved in groundbreaking research. Express your interest. Offer to assist. This not only gives you hands-on experience but also allows you to witness the practical application of classroom theories.
  1. Faculty-led Initiatives: Workshops, seminars, guest lectures – these are goldmines for networking. Participate actively. Engage with the content. Share your feedback. It shows your commitment and can lead to more personalized interactions.
  1. The Personal Touch: Professors are humans too. They have their stories, their journeys. Take interest. You’d be surprised at the wealth of knowledge and experience they bring. And sometimes, the most valuable lessons come from personal anecdotes, not textbooks.

Overcoming Challenges in Networking in MBA

If there’s one thing that I can tell you about me that might be really comforting for you, I can tell you that I was/am a big-time introvert. 

I used to keep myself from networking for a very long time because of that. Moreover, I also stammer while speaking. So there was an added incentive (read: fear) for me to not get to terms with the need to network.

These are some of the challenges that I faced that hindered my attempts to build good relationships. But let me tell you, those were bad reasons for me to not do it.

Let me tell you what could be some challenges that you could face and why you should not feel like that.

Here we go.

  1. The Fear of the First Step: For many, the mere thought of initiating a conversation can be paralyzing. “What if I say something wrong?” “What if they’re not interested?” These are common fears. But remember, every seasoned networker was once in your shoes. The key is to start small. A simple comment about a recent lecture or a shared interest can be the spark that ignites a meaningful conversation.
  1. The Introvert’s Dilemma: Being surrounded by a sea of extroverts can be overwhelming for an introvert. The buzz of constant chatter, the pressure to mingle—it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But here’s a secret: Introverts often make the best networkers. Why? Because they listen. They forge deeper, more meaningful connections. So, embrace your introversion. Focus on one-on-one or small group interactions. Over time, you’ll find your networking rhythm.
  1. Navigating Cultural Differences: In a diverse environment like a B-school, you’ll meet peers from various cultural backgrounds. While this diversity is a strength, it can also lead to misunderstandings. The solution? Educate yourself. Attend cultural exchange events, participate in international student forums, and most importantly, be open-minded. Every interaction is an opportunity to learn and grow.
  1. Dealing with Rejection: Not every attempt to network will be successful, and that’s okay. There will be times when someone won’t respond to your email or will decline your LinkedIn request. It’s essential not to take these instances personally. Instead, reflect on what you can improve and move forward. Remember, every ‘no’ brings you one step closer to a ‘yes.’
  1. The Myth of Quantity Over Quality: In the age of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in the numbers game. “How many LinkedIn connections do I have?” “How many business cards did I collect at the last event?” But true networking isn’t about quantity; it’s about quality. It’s better to have ten meaningful connections than a hundred superficial ones. Focus on building genuine relationships based on mutual respect and shared interests.

Conclusion – Networking in MBA

As the sun sets on your MBA journey, you’ll realize that the most valuable assets you’ve gained aren’t in your degree or your grades; they’re in the relationships you’ve built. The late-night project discussions, the impromptu brainstorming sessions, the heartfelt conversations after a tough exam – these are the moments that define your MBA experience.

So, as you step out into the world, armed with knowledge and ambition, remember to cherish these connections. Nurture them. Because these are the bridges to your future.

And now, my friend, it’s your turn. Share your networking journey. The highs, the lows, the lessons. Let’s learn, grow, and succeed, together. 

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About the author

  • Darpan Saxena

    Darpan is a Marketing Strategist & Consultant by profession and a blogger by hobby. He is an engineer by qualification and also an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Udaipur. In his 6+ years of professional experience, he has crafted go-to-market strategies for brands like Abbott (in Singapore), Genpact and CL Educate apart from the other small and medium businesses which have witnessed growth through his marketing and strategy consultation. Darpan has worked as a Product Head of the biggest vertical of an education technology company in New Delhi.

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