How MBAs Win Friends and Influence People

Networking at business school

“Sometimes idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in heaven. To succeed in this world you have to be known to people.” This powerful quote is attributed to Sonia Sotomayor, one of the youngest chief justices of the US Supreme Court and a woman who grew up in a housing project in the NYC’s South Bronx before becoming the first Hispanic judge of the highest court in the country.    

Today, it is estimated that as many as 85% of jobs are filled through networking - a staggering percentage. Networking is one of the key motivations behind many candidates' decision to study an MBA, with almost (if not) every business school across the globe promoting the size its MBA alumni community. MBA classmates and alumni play a central role in helping their peers get that prized insider view into numerous aspects of professional life, with many being sufficiently well positioned so as to be able to provide an enviable connection to a particular organization.

In a world where social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook dominate, and where everyone is clamoring to be heard, it is important to know how to cut through the din and stand out. Networking at business school gives you that opportunity, and is an occasion to develop meaningful relationships that, very importantly for your future, build the necessary trust that can get you places. Networking at business school is the sort of opportunity that, if underplayed, can be poorly wasted. Below are a few tips that could ultimately help you land the position that tops your wish list.

Identifying your network

As curious and clinical as it might seem, setting out a strategy by which you can draw up a list of carefully categorized contacts really works. You already have your classmates in your midst and the relationships you build here might nourish you spiritually, but could also help your future career. These people will likely be natural social network add-ons. Members of the business school faculty are also very much connected. Engage with your professors, and be clear on your career ambitions so that they can guide you towards the right people to talk to. Always note down who's who and why they're important to you.

You then have that invaluable MBA alumni network to reach out to. Most business schools offer an MBA alumni directory where you can locate individuals by their name, profession, company, position or class year (as examples). Draw up a list of contacts that you can eventually split into groups dependent on who, for example, represents a particular industry or company, is a warm contact, or is someone you still need to get in touch with – and always remember to write down which characteristics make each person valuable and why.

Putting together that critical two-minute elevator pitch

An elevator pitch is a statement that gives someone a very brief overview of your background and objectives. Before you begin drawing up your own personal soundbite, which should last for somewhere between 60 seconds and two minutes, make sure that you 'know what you want to be known for.' You may already have the good fortune of having this clear in mind, or it may involve eight cups of coffee and a hard think. For others, it could take a retreat to Kathmandu, or even an entire lifetime, so don't be too hard on yourself. Plan what you want to be known for now and in the immediate future.


Structure the flow of your elevator pitch, beginning with a statement of your current profession (not your job title, but what it is that you do), followed by an outline of your expertise, then give a concise summary of the organizations you've worked for, as well as where you aim to work in the future. Make sure to illustrate your strengths and what makes you unique; your personality, the skills and expertise you've acquired, the accomplishments you've had (provide evidence of these), or distinctive experiences that compel the listener to lean in because they recognize your potential. Draw up an elevator pitch that can be delivered in person, and rehearse, reform and tailor slightly different versions of it so that you can adapt variations of your presentation to fit your audience. Also, have versions ready that can be sent out via email.

Reaching out

Now that you have an idea of who you want to reach out to and what you want to say, it's essential that you get the ball rolling. Try contacting one or two alumni per week, by phone or by email. Many MBA alumni are happy to provide an informational interview, be it to give you that valuable insider view or to help you in your quests to land that ideal internship. You can gain very useful knowledge on how each person got to where they are, what steps they took, and how they developed and plan to further develop their career. Don't treat these meetings as pure transactions, but as an opportunity to build meaningful relationships.    

There will also be plenty of networking events open to you as well. Try to fit several networking events into every month, and aim to make at least one connection per event. The result will be a significantly more interesting calendar, with dinners, corporate presentations, cocktail receptions, case preparation sessions and coffee mornings to liven up those hours spent poring over course textbook materials.

A little Carnegie to conclude

Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People offers timeless advice for those wanting to grow their careers and build strong ties with the diverse people they meet along the way. It’s clear that it is the savvy communicators among us who are those most likely to succeed in climbing the ranks. Essentials such as noting (down) every person's name is a must, for as Carnegie points out, "names are the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Listening to your interlocutor is also key - this means no brazen outpourings of ‘me-isms’. Carnegie states that, “you can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years of trying to get other people interested in you.” Other helpful and time-immune Carnegie quotes include:


  • There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.
  • Your purpose is to make your audience see what you saw, hear what you heard, feel what you felt. Relevant detail, couched in concrete, colorful language, is the best way to recreate the incident as it happened and to picture it for the audience.

Networking, therefore, is not just about climbing the social hierarchy, it is also about daring to reach out and build solid and enduring friendships, and it’s about learning from others and giving in return. Most importantly, networking is an experience that has the potential to be altogether edifying.

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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