The importance of being a networker?

If you are the type of person who possess a fine attention to detail, you will have already noticed that there is a question mark at the end of the title of this article. If you are the type of person who possess a sense of curiosity, you will almost certainly be wondering why that is.

One of the first things we are all told when embarking on an MBA in Boston is that networking is important- perhaps even critical- to finding the job you really want once you have graduated. Boston thrives on networks, and everyone from the careers team to the Dean are keen to tell you how important it is and provide you with chances to go and get involved.

I am vice-president of the entrepreneurship and innovation club at Hult and the opportunities to meet like-minded entrepreneurs here are incredible. I’ve never done the calculations, but there must be significantly more than one event for every day of the year, possibly even two. And that’s just for the entrepreneur community. The chances to meet people who may have, or at least know someone who will have, a dream job lined up for you in the future are colossal.

So why the question mark in the title? The point is that you never know if and when your network is going to come through for you. It may never bear fruit. Of course it doesn’t hurt to know people in a city, but the time it takes to build a virtual database of contacts who are more to you than just ‘that guy who made a funny joke about the hors d’oeuvres’ is colossal- particularly when you are on an MBA course that should take two years, but is done in half that time.

The trick here is to be selective with your appointments: go to the events that truly interest you and are likely to be attended by people you want to meet. Have an objective in mind and if possible, target certain attendees in advance so you can do your research. Make the most of your limited time.

I still do not know if my network will be of any significant use to me in the future. I’ve met some interesting people, and had a lot of fun doing it but only time will tell whether it comes through for me.

Then again, there is a more subtle advantage of networking that is seldom talked about: confidence. Not only does it encourage you to get out and be talkative about yourself to absolute strangers, it gives you practice for when you finally meet the employer of your dreams and also gives you the belief that you belong amongst those people. For many, that confidence is what gets them their dream job, not their contacts.

So get out there and give it a go. Nothing ventured, nothing gained as they say.

To MBA or not to MBA, that was the question.

In November 2011 during a rainy drive home on the M25 from another late night emergency at work, I had a sudden realization that I was unhappy. At best, my work as an area manger for a leading UK hospitality company was inspiring, challenging and hugely varied, but there and then I knew that my career had stalled and it was affecting my life. It was time to make a change.

Deciding to change is great, but how do you do it? I found that knowing you need to change your career path is much easier than knowing how to change it. There is no ‘right’ way to go about it because each case is unique- although there is certainly a ‘wrong’ way. I was fortunate to have mentors who helped me realize that making a knee-jerk decision to hand in my notice would be foolish: you never leave until you have something to go to, particularly in today’s job market.

On the face of it, doing an MBA felt like a great idea: a chance to go back to study, learn new skills, meet new people, increase your salary and then land a cool new job in a different industry, country or maybe even both at the end of it all. Easy. But then there is the cost- most programmes take two years and are far from cheap in their own right, even before you take into account the fact that you won’t earn a salary for that time as well. It was a calculated risk, and a very tough decision but it was absolutely the right one for me.

I arrived in Boston in August and truly haven’t looked back. It was a lot to take in all at once: a culture shock of living in a new country, finding accommodation, meeting so many new people and of course preparing for the intense MBA course itself. The pace of learning has been phenomenal and the schedule is extreme, so it feels like I am still in a full-time job.

I was lucky to receive some first-class preparation advice, but there are some things you can never be fully prepared for. A classic example is the learning environment you encounter on an MBA- unlike all of my previous education, learning theories and completing class work is only the tip of the iceberg. In an MBA you learn as much from each other as you do from the professors- a huge part of my learning has come from the experience of my peers and this has helped me to reflect on, and make sense of, my own experiences as a result.

From a careers perspective, this is ideal. I already have a much better understanding of who I am and what I need from my career. I now have a network of 210 people from 56 different countries and the use of all of their business contacts to find the perfect job opportunity for me. You really cannot put a price on such a valuable resource, and I’m surprised business schools don’t make more of it in their marketing materials.

Right now I couldn’t be happier with the direction my career is heading and the exciting opportunities that lay ahead of me.

What a difference a year makes.

Stuart Gilchriest, MBA Student

P.S. If you want to find out more about taking an MBA, I would recommend buying an excellent book called “What they teach you at Harvard Business School” by Phillip Delves-Broughton.

 

Note: this blog was originally published on my friend Saffron Fidget’s excellent website, Career Circus (careercircus.wordpress.com/2012/12/10/guest-blog-sg/).