Career Development 101: Taking Networking to the Next Level, MBA Style

Relationships, relationships, relationships. As someone who came from a science background – after doing the MBA and working in a Fortune 100 company – I’ve come to realize that networking is key to success in business.

I also know that there are a lot of books, videos, podcasts, etc on networking, but none of them are tailored toward MBAs. I will not repeat the basics of networking, but will assume that folks reading this have graduated from an MBA program or have read some books or articles and know them already. This is more of an add-on, as opposed to an intro into networking.

This is the second post in my Career Development 101 Series. You can find all of my Career Development 101 series on this page. As mentioned before, now that I’ve transitioned from being a Duke MBA student I’d like to focus more on leadership development after the MBA.

Create a System and Actually Follow Up for Effective Networking

Think rolodex, but in 2016. In order to be 100% effective, it’s important to track the folks you meet and take some notes. This is because you’ll quickly find (or may have already found out) that most people who want to network with you never follow up. Thus, those who do actually follow up really stand out. 

I also think it’s important to make note of follow-up items from a networking conversation because there could be opportunities that would be mutually beneficial. After an intensive networking session where you meet a lot of people, you may think you’ll remember everything. However, after 1 month, you may not recognize any of the names in your pile of business cards.

It doesn’t have to be super complex. I personally just use Excel and keep separate tabs to organize. I usually just put down basic fields like name, date last met, next meeting date, and notes. You don’t need to record contact info since your email client should take care of that for you. Depending on your needs, you could also divide by industry, company, etc.

You may say this is redundant since everyone uses LinkedIn, but I find this more deliberate and customizable. For example, I don’t put everyone I meet on my “rolodex” – it’s not meant to be a contact book. Rather, it’s more of a way to keep track of the people I need to follow up with and make sure I maintain the relationship. I remember reading a very old case about a successful business leader who did networking very well, and this is a more modern version of what that person did.

Take Networking to the Next Level: Unleash your Intellectual Curiosity

Networking is really about meeting people outside of your immediate, vertical team and outside of your company. Thus, it really is an opportunity to discuss big, audacious, and even seemingly impossible subjects. This is really one of the most fun things of networking since the discussions you may have can really take your thinking (and the thinking of those around you) to the next level.

I love going to conferences because it puts you at the frontier where everyone is an explorer. However, you never want to go to conferences just to listen, but to have a dialogue with the leaders in your industry today. If you can really immerse yourself into these conversations and let your intellectual juices flow, everyone gets something out of it and you leave the conference with new contacts that want to follow up with you.

Either during a talk, in-between talks, or during evening receptions, speak up and discuss what is on your mind - something the entire industry is working on or currently finds as a challenge. I always find speaking up during workshops or talks to be effective. One, it keeps you engaged. Two, it sends a signal that you are tuned in and part of the "leadership" of the industry.

In the book, Never Eat Alone, which I review on this site, Ferrazzi describes that right after a talk is the best time to connect with a speaker. I've noticed that this is also the case for people who speak up during talks and ask probing questions. 

Obviously you need to ask meaningful questions - think the opposite of MBA classrooms where some people speak up just to get class participation credit. No, no, no. This is real life and there is no credit for asking stupid questions. However, what I'm saying is you must unleash your intellectual curiosity and be present at the moment to get the most out of networking.

Networking is a Life-long Project

A lot of people don't like networking. That's because they associate networking with the job search process, which is not the correct mindset. By then it is already too late. 

Rather, networking starts when you begin your professional career and is something that will drive it for your entire life. Networking isn't even a marathon, since that has a distinct start and finish line, and is also painful for most people. Instead, I would view networking as eating food, drinking water, or watching your favorite show - something that is an essential part of your life that you do every day.

I still remember a video I watched that describes this the best. Steve Burrill, a very successful life sciences investor, described what he considered passion in the talk. He shares the story when he was watching a Duke basketball game, he got a phone call that interrupted him. While most people may get pissed and may not pick up the phone or ignore the request, he embraced the opportunity. This is because networking was an integral part of this person's life and not viewed as only needed during certain times.

This isn't about personality types - whereas extroverts are naturally good at this. I'm normally a pretty reserved and introverted guy but thoroughly enjoy networking. It's about the correct mindset. If you are truly in an industry that you love and doing work that you enjoy, and with this right mindset, you will truly love, and excel at, networking.

This is the 2nd post in my series, Career Development 101, tailored specifically for professionals with MBAs, doing their MBA, or thinking of doing an MBA.

Here are some other posts I've written that touch on networking on this blog:

The Summer Before the MBA
Keith Ferrazzi's Never Eat Alone (book review)
Why do an MBA?


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