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3 Creative Ideas for Career Connections in Business School

Posted October 16, 2018 by Barbara Coward - Founder - Enrollment Strategies

It’s something that is on every MBA student’s mind in business school: How can you make the most of your network for new career opportunities?

Even those who are not immediately looking for a career change or opportunity, such as sponsored students, can benefit from cultivating a broader professional network. After all, you never know what new connection could become invaluable in the future.

While the school’s career services office and alumni network will be your primary sources for career connections, are there other opportunities you are missing?

We asked current students, alumni, and career service professionals for some creative ideas. Here is what they suggested.

1. Start Before you Start

It’s never too early to begin to make career connections in business school—even before you step on campus or being your online classes.

Elizabeth Moon, associate director of career development and chief diversity officer at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, shares the story of a student who made a significant career pivot from probation officer to market research analyst in the healthcare sector.

“He did something right away that set him apart,” says Moon. “As soon as he enrolled, he contacted our career services office.” (At UC Davis, you can begin to interact with the career development team as soon as you pay your deposit.)

Because the student took an early initiative, the team got to know him on a deeper level, beyond his career interests.

“I also got to know his personality,” she adds. “As a result, I was able to consider a cultural fit with a wider range of companies. That increased his options.”

2. Add Value

“What I’ve seen work really well, especially in the tech sector, is reaching out to companies and sharing your ideas,” says Kenton Kivestu, an alumnus of Tuck Business School who created RocketBlocks, an online platform that helps candidates prepare for case interviews.

“It can be on any number of topics: how you would make a product better, suggestions on how to improve their marketing strategy, or competitive research.”

Asking for feedback from company leaders, he asserts, is more effective than asking for a job.

“You could ask a contact at Google to forward your resume,” explains Kivestu. “Or you could mention that you are really interested in the Gmail product and share an article you wrote on LinkedIn Pulse with three things Google could do to improve it.”

The latter shows you care and that you have done the leg work. That will set you apart.

Kivestu says he has seen this strategy work at Uber, Twitter, and Facebook. Yet he does not see why it couldn’t be applied to other companies outside of the tech industry, such as Toyota, Tide, or PNC.

He says that it works especially well in startups. “They feel so strapped for time and resources that if someone comes along externally with a great idea, it gets people’s attention.”

Essentially you want the person on the other side to see that you are already thinking like an employee, says Kivestu. “Add some value first.”

3. Get Social

But you don’t even need to be an author to draw the attention of influential career connections.

Saikumar Mani, a current executive MBA student at McCombs School of Business, loves LinkedIn.

“My main source for networking is LinkedIn,” says the center supply chain manager at Schlumberger Limited, the world’s largest oilfield services company. “Every student needs to get LinkedIn Premium and spend part of each day on social media. You get to see how other people are developing their careers.”

It’s also a bold yet effective way to connect with business leaders and start a conversation.

Just don’t talk about yourself.

“This is not about asking for a job. This is not about selling yourself. It’s about seeking leadership insights. Find out what drives them. Don’t dwell more than a minute or two on your background.”

Mani says he had a great conversation with the CEO of a Fortune 500 firm that came about from a direct outreach on LinkedIn. “You need to be respectful of their calendar, but you’ll be surprised at how generous they are with their time.”

Regardless of your specific strategy, Nitin Bajaj, a first-year, full-time MBA student at Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and former economist at Ernst & Young, reiterates the importance of research when cultivating any business relationship.

“I have always used fundamental principles of psychology that have so far served me well. People love engaging with you when you are genuinely interested in them and their work,” he says, adding, “I would advise spending time studying the interests and passions of people in important positions at the companies you want to work for. This serves as an ice breaker, and I often start my first email along the lines of, ‘I truly value your opinion and would appreciate your thoughts on whether I should do X or Y.’”

The strategy has proven results. Last July, one month before classes started, Bajaj attended Amazon’s pre-MBA Summit in Seattle and secured an internship for the summer of 2019.

Barbara CowardBarbara Coward is a business school industry analyst and the founder of Enrollment Strategies, providing expertise in graduate management admissions and marketing.