MBA Tips: How to Prepare for Networking Events

by Matthew Kuo on December 30, 2012

in MBA, MBA Tips

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Attending networking events is one of the most demoralizing aspects of getting your MBA.  You’ll find yourself standing in a circle sucking up to employees from the company you want to work for.  You’ll ask flattering questions and beg people for their business cards.  And after the event, you’ll write several emails thanking the recruiters for this experience, very few of which are ever read or responded to.

Because the competition for jobs is so intense, you need every edge you can get and have no choice but to participate.  The recruiters put everyone down at the very bottom of the totem pole and only want to consider candidates who demonstrate that they really want the job.  While this requirement can be unpleasant, you can still use it as incentive; if you network effectively and secure your dream job, you’ll never have to do this type of networking again.

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Come to the Event with a Strategy

Do not walk into a networking event and just start talking to random people.  The worst experience in a networking event is spending several minutes talking to someone who is clearly not involved in recruiting MBAs and can’t provide any information or contacts for the job you’re targeting.  You should always create a plan of attack before walking in.  Do as much recon as you can as to which attendees will be there.  During the event, I usually try to talk to the lead recruiter, at least one person in a managerial or partner role, and at least one person in a post-MBA role.  Your plan likely won’t go exactly as you expected, but coming in with one increases your likelihood of getting better results.

Prepare Good Questions

This advice should be obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t prepare good, interesting questions.  Having been on both sides of the networking event, I can tell you that I never remember someone who asks a vanilla question such as “tell me about your last project?” or “what do you like best about your job?”  These questions are fine on their own, and can probably provide you insightful information.  But your goal at a networking event is to be remembered.  By researching the company beforehand, and preparing good, insightful questions, you’ll set yourself apart from the other attendees.

Talk to the Recruiter

The recruiter is the one person at a networking event that will always be involved in the recruiting process.  With the other corporate attendees, it’s hit or miss.  Some corporate participants do help the recruiter in screening candidates and are worthwhile contacts to have.  Others are just there as warm bodies who got an excuse to leave work early.

Work in Teams

Networking events are usually large enough that it won’t be possible to talk to everyone from the company.  If a company is really high on your recruiting list, divvy up the ground work between you and your peers and share all the contact information you get.  Every business school claims to have a collaborative environment: this is your chance to prove it.

Introduce Your Peers to the Corporate Participants

Networking events are generally viewed as a cutthroat process, because only a few people will secure the most coveted jobs available at any school.  Within this context, watching someone assist a peer is a refreshing experience.  The effect of this tactic will vary between companies, but generally it’s viewed as desirable character trait.

Set a Contact Goal

As a networking event winds down, it’s always difficult to gauge the appropriate time to leave.  Compounding this pressure is the fact that you have homework and club responsibilities that you’re likely already behind on.  Setting a goal beforehand is this simplest way to balance your priorities while ensuring you put forth a good faith effort at the event.

Bring Some Business Cards Just in Case

While physical business cards are slowly becoming obsolete, a few recruiters still ask for them during networking events.  Most speakers at networking events have difficulty remembering people, and this request is literally just used to track the people they’ve talked to.  Put a handful of business cards in your wallet or padfolio to make sure you are prepared.

Hold Your Drink with Your Left Hand

A cold, “clammy” handshake is similar shaking hands with someone who just left the bathroom and didn’t dry their hands completely.  Performing such a handshake won’t help your recruiting chances.  Hold your drink in your left hand to keep your handshake warm and dry.

Put Your Nametag on Your Lapel

Most business schools use nametags that attach with a magnetic a strip on the back.  Some students make the mistake of putting the nametag within the main body of their suit jacket right above the breast pocket.  Your clothing is too thick in this area and will likely cause the name tag to fall off.  Put your name tag on the right lapel of your suit jacket to keep this from happening.

Write Thank You Notes Right After the Event

Writing thank you notes is demoralizing, feels superfluous, and makes you wonder how low the totem pole can possibly be.  And yes, having been on the receiving end of fifty thank you notes after participating on the corporate side of a recruiting event, I can tell you that not all emails are responded to.  (Sorry)  My advice for thank you notes is simple: just do it.  The only thing holding you back from writing these notes is your ego.  And given the intense competition of MBA recruiting, you can’t afford not to write them.  Immediately after you leave a networking event, take the 30 minutes needed to write your thank you notes and be done with it.

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Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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