Thursday, May 14, 2015 at 6am

5 Ways to Assess Networking Opportunities at an MBA Program

MBA networking

Ever heard of the Yale mafia? I assure you it’s a very real phenomenon. Yale graduates (myself included) are slightly more likely to hire a fellow Eli. Is it fair? Not really. But alumni networking is part of your career path. The door is always open for the right candidate, but sometimes it swings open a little further for those with a particular background.

This is why earning your MBA is only 50% about learning new academic theories or gaining some related practical skills. The other half? Networking. Even more than what you know, who you know will help you open up a career path. So how can you know that you’re going to meet the right people?

Of course, there’s no way to know for sure. You could meet your business partners and career soulmates at any program, but you can increase your odds of getting the right fit if you know a little something about the schools to which you’re applying.

Track alumni network strength patterns.

All schools like to boast the strength of their alumni network, but that’s only part of the picture. This article from The Economist assesses ‘the top 100’ schools, ranking their alumni network in ‘usefulness’—and the top school may surprise you. It is not just about school size when it comes to alumni network strength. Sometimes it’s more about the strong community.

It turns out that Dartmouth tops this internationally-ranked list, and while it’s a smaller school, according to this article, it can really provide a leg up when looking for future employment. That being said, this is a tough metric to measure. U.S. News does it by ranking alumni giving, but it’s not really the same thing.

Make sure you also check where alumni network groups are strong and if that is somewhere you want to be. Is the network for Berkeley only strong in California? Is Kellogg really only strong in Chicago? Look their alumni patterns and events to assess actual usefulness for you.

Consider job placement numbers

So, how else might you assess how well a school does in networking? How about job placement? Take a look at the numbers based on your desired career path and see the percentages of people who got great jobs right out of school. That can give you a good indication of how their network is functioning.

Look at ROI

Some people like to check what graduates are making (compared to tuition) to assess how the network really functions. While return on investment (ROI) is an important indicator, don’t put all your stock in this metric either. After all, there are many types of MBA grads and some careers will lead to more cash flow than others right out of the gate, while others play a longer ROI game. And after all, even in business, money isn’t everything.

Some of the ROI studies you see only look at the first year after graduation, which is likely when grads are just starting out and taking jobs that have a great deal of potential (perhaps at the sacrifice of cash flow). That being said, this infographic made by UNC paints a pretty good picture of ROI and has some more reliable numbers than most.

Ask about informational interviews

It’s a good idea to ask a potential MBA program about access to informational interviews with people who work in the industry that interests you. It’s imperative to take advantage of this resource, and some schools can provide better face time than others. Ask around to see what kind of informational interviews the program can provide and if those relate with the work that you want to be doing post-graduation. In addition to informational interviews, see what kind of internships students have been getting and if these interest you. If other students have intriguing internships, it’s likely that the program is a pipeline for the same internships and possibly a career path in the future, usually because of an alumni connection which can be found though informational interviews.

Grade the professors

Research the faculty of an intended university, not just who seems to be at the top of their game, but who might help you specifically. Just because a school can boast superstar faculty doesn’t mean they can help you network. Big-time faculty will often be out on book tours and sabbaticals. Instead, see if faculty members are doing good work that matches your chosen specialty. Check student evaluations and published papers to make sure you feel they are compatible to your style and your eventual goals. Your professors, as much as your peers and alums, will be the gatekeepers to your future success.

As I said, you never know how you will make your ideal career happen, but make sure the school to which you apply has its own mafia, because that can make all the difference. 

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Ryan Hickey is the managing editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and is an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants.