Mecia Grad - 72

5 Tips For Successful Business Networking

The concept of networking is commonplace in business or work-related settings. It’s one of those buzzwords that’s always around, and can apparently lead to great outcomes! As I’ve learnt first-hand though, building networks requires work and can take time. Leveraging those networks to become meaningful relationships takes even more work. My recent international MBA experience proved an excellent opportunity to create networks; and leverage them into meaningful relationships. Here’s what I did right and what I would do differently if I could go back and do it all again.

Know Your Motivation

On the list of motivations for people pursuing an MBA – and particularly an international MBA, completed outside of your country of residence – creating networks usually ranks as one of the top factors. It was certainly the one of the fundamental reasons why I pursued an international MBA degree.

MBA courses are known for attracting a certain calibre of person – the type of person who has their sights set on senior management, who’s pivoting careers or preparing to go out on their own. More importantly, these are people willing to take action, work hard and invest in their future.  

Sounds like the type of people who would be great to add to your network right?

That’s why, heading into my MBA, creating international networks formed an important part of my long-term goal to establish a foundation focused on women’s education. I was also hopeful that my newfound networks might help me land a job abroad and lead to an international career.

I was ready. I was amped. I had a plan and all the energy in the world.

Get Involved

I took the MBA by the horns and excelled.

If your goals include networking, you can’t afford to be someone who sits on the side lines.

This is the part that, in retrospect, I’m proud to say I did well from the outset. I was involved in extra stuff, and sought out opportunities that aligned with my long-term, personal goals.

I served as course representative, which provided an opportunity to understand the international education model and build closer relationships with the faculty – all the while looking for synergy with my goal of setting up a South African-based foundation that would eventually facilitate access to international education for other women.

Along with two teammates, I participated in – and won – an eight-month-long international consulting competition run in partnership with the Manitou Group and the United Nations Global Compact. This helped me fulfil so many of my aspirations:

  • Advancing the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),
  • Working with a multinational company,
  • Building international business strategies,
  • Presenting to an international business audience and
  • Working with the United Nations – a dream employer!

During the year I also developed a well-received marketing strategy for V Formation, a UK-based marketing and PR firm – a sustainable business plan for a local charity – and led my group to victory in a Deloitte case competition.

All those activities must have led to many great networks, right? They did.

Yet, none of them landed me a job.

Take Action

For a while I was disappointed about this. Then I realised I was going about it the wrong way.

Instead of waiting for things to happen, I needed to make them happen. People would not know what I wanted, if I did not reach out and tell them.

The fact that I’d put my all into the projects that I was involved in was in my favour. It didn’t matter that they didn’t land me a job – what mattered was that I now had a working relationship and reputation to draw on. It was time to start building on the foundation that I had worked so hard to lay down.

Speak up. I reached out and shared that I was in process of building my personal brand while I explored potential employment options. The results were immediate. Within a heartbeat Hilary Campton, CEO of V Formation, asked me to write a marketing piece, leveraging the strategy I’d built for her company. V Formation featured me as a guest blogger on their website, which was valuable marketing that I would not have been able to afford – and a priceless endorsement!

Have a clear purpose. Not long after, James Green who now runs an alternative energy company in the USA, approached me to be part of a panel submitting a clean energy project concept to the United Nations. We worked together during the international consulting challenge and he knew that I had an interest in the global SDGs and social justice. Another opportunity to work with a world-renowned international development organisation and, importantly, advance issues close to my heart.

Ask for help. In a relatively short time, I had gone from feeling lost and hopeless to feeling like I was once again adding value. It gave me the confidence I needed to start pouring energy into creating my personal brand and service offering. And as I pursued this new goal, I once again turned to my network for advice, perspective and access to an even wider network. It may not sound like this means much, but trust me, it’s invaluable and would ordinarily come with a large price tag!

5 Ways To Turn An MBA Into A Successful Business Network

I’ve read many articles talking about MBA networks being underwhelming. What my experience has taught me, though, is that as with most things in life – you get out what you put in.

When you join an MBA programme, you will inevitably be in a room with people from different business and personal backgrounds over an intense period of several months. This, however, does not automatically create a network for you. You need to do the work.

  1. Seek out those who fit into your long-term goals, or those who best complement your skills, and nurture those relationships.
  2. Consider the potential networks which extend outside of the classroom.
  3. Think about the guest lecturers, the industry professionals and even the faculty members you interact with. Each one of them holds potential to help you achieve your goals.
  4. Make the first move – don’t wait for them to come to you.
  5. Remember, people don’t know what you need until you let them know.

So what are you waiting for… go out there and make it happen!

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