In the business world, who you know is as important as what you know. References and recommendations can boost your spot among the competition, especially when you’re looking for a new job—having the right connection can mean the difference between securing the interview or getting buried in a sea of resumes. But to be able to leverage and contact people to support your career, you first have to build a solid and diverse network to help you along the way.
If you’re interested in what good can come from quality contacts, keep reading to get a full breakdown of what is networking, along with some of the best places to look for professional networking opportunities.
An Overview of Networking
When most people try to answer “What is networking?”, they might picture wearing name tags, shaking hands and exchanging business cards at a work conference. In a lot of ways, that is exactly what networking is; by definition, it is “the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business.”1 Your network can be made up of people you’ve met once or those whom you’ve known your whole life, but you can think of it as a sort of “personal directory” to benefit your career. They are people to whom you could turn for anything from job advice to potential collaborations. With each new job, project or event, you’ll find that your number of connections grows incrementally over time, and your network will become a powerful career tool.
The better you get at networking, the more quality and value you’ll be able to find when you reach out to anyone within the group. Friends, coworkers and connections will be much more willing to offer feedback or support your work when you do the same in return. Thus, it’s important to remember that networking is a reciprocal relationship and requires a certain level of energy and investment. Check in with your connections, offer help when you can and don’t forget to stay authentic and professional.
What is Social Networking?
Take the process mentioned above of meeting someone new or catching up with an old friend but move it online—that’s social networking. Platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are the most well-known, internet-based social networking services that you can use to communicate with others.2 At the heart of what is social networking is connection: you can share photos, videos or just your everyday thoughts on social networks to keep your friends and contacts up to date.
LinkedIn, the world’s most popular business social networking tool, has 850 million members and is one of the first places you should go when trying to grow or engage with your professional network.3 It’s an extremely valuable resource for exploring job postings, staying informed in your industry and connecting with people from a variety of job titles.
How to Expand Your Professional Network
The good news is that if you’ve had any job in the past or hold one now, no matter what kind, you already have the foundations of a professional network. If you want to branch outside of your day-to-day work connections, though, you can join online groups or attend networking events to gather new contacts. Some people also seek out advanced degrees, like an MBA, for the specific purpose of growing their network.
Here are some great places you can look to build a professional network.
1. Former coworkers
Did you know that most people have 12 jobs during their lifetime?4 That means it’s highly likely that you will switch jobs or have coworkers who go on to new jobs of their own, sometimes even more than once a year. Each position you land or company you join opens up a new circle of connections with whom you can build a mutually beneficial relationship. This is why the age-old advice to “never burn a bridge” is so valid. You never know when you might need a reference or a favor from someone in the future.
2. Your school’s alumni network
Much like leveraging previous jobs and coworkers, it’s best to tap into existing networks versus always trying to meet new people. Your university and business school alumni are a perfect example of a premade resource that you can use to your advantage. No matter the size of your alma mater, an alumni network is undoubtedly full of people in various titles, career paths and seniority levels. Business schools worldwide emphasize "lifelong connections" as a major benefit, so some universities will even have a shared networking tool, like Handshake, to automatically connect you with the specific business school network. Whether you reconnect over the football team’s season or the expansion of the business school, you already have something in common that can help guide your conversation.
An alumni network goes well beyond your class’s graduates, and even the school from which you graduated (e.g., your business school alumni). Don’t be afraid to reach out to people with other degrees and in other disciplines. If you choose to pursue a master’s degree, that will also introduce you to a multitude of other peers from whom you can learn and benefit.
3. A master’s degree cohort
When you join a master’s degree program, you’ll find yourself surrounded by a group of fellow students who have many of the same goals and interests as you; after all, you all ended up in the same program. Although the ages of master’s students can vary greatly, you can be confident that they’re all hard-working, motivated professionals like yourself. You’ve all chosen to invest in your education and professional development, so you can share stories and advice for completing the program.
The cohort for an online MBA program, for example, can range from people in technology focused jobs to the owner of a corporate yoga company. Take advantage of the opportunity to get to know your other MBA students. Who knows, they might have coworkers and connections that could become your potential future business partners. Attend any MBA networking events that your business school organized, and many will also have dedicated careers service that you can use to get started.
After getting your MBA, start building a professional network in earnest. Tap into your business school networks and join business organizations in your city. Keep your social media accounts up to date and print extra business cards so that you can share them with anyone you meet.
4. Current and former professors
For those who are lucky enough to have studied under a mentor before, then you know how beneficial and influential their guidance can be. Most faculty, like those at Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business, are accomplished business professionals and academics that were chosen for their impressive credentials. Some might even teach for multiple degrees at the same time because of their widely applicable expertise (e.g., an MSA and MBA program professor). Whoever your university has chosen as faculty for their programs, you’ll learn a lot about your professors, their experience and their professional interests as you move further through your classes.
If you find that you connect well with certain professors, don’t hesitate to use the opportunity to get to know them outside of the classroom and make more personal connections. Not only will they likely have a wealth of experience and knowledge to share with you, but they also will have contacts with former students, other business leaders and the academic community. More often than not, your professors will be delighted to connect you with whomever you ask, or whom they think would be a great contact for you.
5. Networking events
The most tried and true way to build a professional network is by getting your name (and your face) out there. Check out your local paper, news station or newsletter for networking events in your area. Visit the social media accounts of business bureaus, the Chamber of Commerce, or a recruitment firm in your area to see if they’re hosting any public forums. Your university, either past or present, will usually hold regular networking events to keep everyone informed and engaged. Panels, webinars, holiday events and open houses are also great places to meet others in a casual way and exchange information if you want to connect further.
Expand Your Knowledge and Your Network
When you pursue an MBA or other business school graduate degree, one major benefit is the connections you gain along the way—even if you earn your degree online. For example, the Online MBA program from Yeshiva University’s Sy Syms School of Business creates opportunities (both online and in person) for networking between student cohorts, faculty and business school alumni. As you learn more about yourself and advance your skills through the program, you’ll meet talented professionals in countless fields to help propel your career in an exciting new direction.
Start the conversation by talking to an Admissions Advisor today.
1. Retrieved on December 12, 2022, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/networking
2. Retrieved on December 12, 2022, from https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/social-networking.asp
3. Retrieved on December 12, 2022, from https://www.businessofapps.com/data/linkedin-statistics/
4. Retrieved on December 12, 2022, from https://www.apollotechnical.com/career-change-statistics/