Whether you see it as the bane of your existence or the best part of your day, the bottom line is that networking is critical for success in today’s marketplace. Networking can help you find your next job or the next member on your team.
Assuming that most MBA students will be looking for jobs or promotions, networking can make all the difference. Research done by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 86% of recent graduates reported networking as a primary activity in their job search. Having a connection into a company can help considerably when applying for a job. Other studies find that a majority of recruiters believe that “the highest-quality job candidates come from personal referrals.” While personal referrals are always important in job searches, the importance is heightened when you move to a new city, change companies, and change fields. So if you find yourself in any of those situations, make sure that you place networking high on your priority list.
As a new student in a master’s program, your networking ability expands dramatically. You are immediately surrounded by likeminded, intelligent, and driven business individuals. On-campus business programs contend that advantages come not only with the knowledge and skills that they impart, but possibly the most important attribute being the network you gain. There are many business success stories, take Hayley Barna and Katia Beauchamp who met at the Harvard Business School. What started as a contact during business school grew to co-founding BirchBox, a worldwide company connecting consumers to beauty products. Also, Neil Blumenthal and Dave Gilboa who met at Wharton and are now co-CEOs of Warby Parker, a socially conscious eyewear company. The stories go on and on.
It has been suggested that online MBA students could be at a disadvantage because networking opportunities are lower in an online program than their face-to-face counterparts. Will students in an online MBA program feel too distant to their peers and professors? Will online students get all the advantages that an MBA program should deliver? These are the questions that perspective online MBA students should be asking.
The Virtual Classroom
Building relationships and dialoguing with people of different opinions will always be an important part of education. An online MBA’s virtual classroom is no different. With the rise of social media, virtual communication is becoming a normative way to interact with others on a daily basis. A virtual classroom is no longer a strange and new situation to navigate.
A virtual classroom can actually provide a more interactive experience than their face-to-face counterparts. For the introverted learners, a virtual classroom provides an even ground for dialogue. Most online courses require posting where everyone must submit their coursework online and then requires follow-up communication. This posting dialogue can be the basis for most of the graded work in the class. Where some introverts would turn in papers and let the more vocal students take the stage in classroom dialogue, an online forum will provide a more interactive medium.
Online MBA programs also routinely involve team projects just like the on-campus programs. With the help of Skype, Google chats, and Dropbox, geographical distance no longer proposes a disadvantage to online students during team projects. Virtual team projects are easier than ever. This ease can also be seen in the virtual work that is mirrored in global professional teams. Some might even contend that students from online degree programs will have important experience to bring to the global virtual professional team.
With online communication in the virtual classroom being important to your grade and your networking ability, there are some things students need to remember:
• Be a good team player in virtual projects. Read the directions, do your part, submit things on time, and connect with your team members as much as possible.
• Be clear and courteous. Remember that tone is hard to convey virtually. You will be dialoguing with these people consistently during the whole class, treat your time with them with care.
• Proofread. This is your chance to regret your words as few times as possible.
• Give thoughtful posts and comments. This is your education; make it as good as possible.
Outside the Classroom
Remember that connections during your education, be it peers or professors, are not the only networking pool you have. Networking opportunities can happen any day, at any time. Opportunities can arise online, as well as in person, throughout your day.
Online opportunities include LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. The NACE reports that the act of using social networking in a job search has increased by over 20%. Start following people and organizations, post and comment, and find your followers rise as well. Many alumni organizations will have a Facebook page, which could be a great way to network with alumni.
Networking can also happen at the gym, the grocery store, on the beach, at the coffee shop, and during happy hour. You never know whom you will meet and how they can positively impact your profession. Also, be aware of who you meet while on the job during online communication, in the elevator, and at conferences. Do what you do, no matter what it is, and do it well. You never know who is watching.
What you need to remember is that there is not just one way to network. Networking can be effective in an online MBA environment, social media, and in your own backyard. These connections can happen anywhere, so be aware and get to work.