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Guide to Professional Networking

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Whether you are currently searching for a job with MBA in-hand, or only just starting the process of finding the right program for you, the ability to network effectively with other professionals is a key skill in any situation.

In an increasingly digital world, social media has become an incredibly powerful tool to guide everyone from prospective students to recent graduates through the professional world. But as the power to connect grows across the world, the ability to effectively navigate through that world becomes equally important.

Below are just a few tips to make the most of your networking opportunities.

Professional Networking Tips

Consider the Return on (Time) Investment

The old saying- time is money- certainly rings true in the world of professional networking. Your time is important and likely limited, so creating an action plan for networking can help save the amount of time and energy you invest. If you have an event coming up which will put you in contact with a number of important people, it’s less important that you meet everyone in the room than to meet the right people.

Before a networking opportunity, do your research: if you are able to find out exactly who will be in attendance, great! If not, consider what sort of relationships would be the most beneficial for your ultimate goals. Is it headhunters? Entrepreneurs? Fortune 500 Executives?

Who the most important people in the room are will vary for person to person, depending on their career and ambitions. Coming up with a relationship plan in advance will save valuable time and set you up for success.

Be the Host with the Most

Attending networking events is always a wonderful way to connect with professionals, but the value in playing host shouldn’t be underplayed. Hosting even small gatherings, like a dinner party, can go a long way. Not only does it show initiative to your guests, but it gives you the opportunity to carefully curate the guest list and achieve a more personal connection than at a casual meet-and-greet.

Make New Friends, But Keep the Old

If you are lucky, your education and career are probably in a very different place than they were two years ago. Your goals and priorities should and will be constantly changing over time, and that means that connections which were worthwhile to pursue in the past could possibly outlive their usefulness. Keeping long-time connections is important, but knowing when to “make new friends” is just as useful. Taking time to re-evaluate and see where your priorities have changed is key to making sure you are making the most out of your connections.

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Shoot for the Moon

Think of the contacts you aspire to have — the ones that may seem completely out of reach — and you can probably come up with a million reasons why not to reach out to them.

Now, take a moment and consider the reasons to reach out to them. Usually, in a situation like this, the only detriment to reaching out to such contacts is rejection, but the benefits are endless. Even when someone seems far out of reach, there’s simply no reason not to try. You never know what could happen!

But before you do, think strategically: what “currency” do you have with this person? Did you attend the same college, come from the same home town? Even something trivial may get your foot in a door.

Get By With a Little Help from Your Friends

The opportunity to network is not just a chance to forge your own connections, but to also pass along contacts who might appreciate an introduction. Perhaps InfoTech isn’t your field, but the entrepreneur you meet at your next event may just be who your friend in information systems should meet to get their startup off the ground. You never know when your friend will find a way to return the favor.

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Even if you attend an in-person networking event every night of the week, you can’t ignore a crucial component of today’s professional world: the in-real-time networking that occurs online, especially on sites like LinkedIn and Twitter. With the chance to tag individuals and hashtag your messages, you truly never know who will read what you put online and how far it will go. Join the online conversation within your industry, follow people you want to connect with, and contribute your voice to the dialogue. You never know who will hear you and want to hear more.

The Show Must (Not) Go On

It’s a great idea to have your elevator pitch rehearsed, but it’s not a great idea to make it a performance. People will notice if you seem too rehearsed, and rather than sounding prepared, it can make you sound fake.

The best advice for life also works for networking: be yourself!

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About the Author

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Alanna Shaffer

Staff Writer, covering MetroMBA's news beat for Atlanta, Houston, and Dallas.

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