Networking 101: Unlocking Relationship Building

The Booth experience (no pun intended) is meant to encompass a lot of things in a short amount of time.  You can take classes with Nobel winning professors, you liaise, and are potentially hired, by some of the world’s premiere companies, and you travel around the globe to fulfill your ‘experiential’ learning component.  But maybe most importantly of all, you build out a tremendous network that stays with you in some capacity for the rest of your life.

The last point is what people generally reflect on as an underlying reason while people continue to apply in masses to schools like Chicago Booth.  Not only do you meet hundreds of people in your time here, you become part of an alumni network that will provide you access points for years to come.

As I’ve progressed through my career here thus far, I’ve been involved in various types of recruiting, both through traditional on-campus methods as well as with off-campus specialized search.  The amazing part is, nearly every interaction has involved a Booth alum and those which haven’t still involved people very familiar with this school’s brand.

Some prospective students have asked before about the components of networking and the ways in which it can be used.    For starters, I’d say the best advice I ever received was to suspend the notion that ‘networking’ is a jaded concept to be ignored or discounted.  Yes, it’s clichéd and probably thrown around with reckless abandon, but at its core, it’s simply about making relationships that matter.  Isn’t that all this world is really about?

Networking should be approached as mentioned.  Build a relationship that may ultimately rest on the ability for both parties to benefit from professionally, but can sustain because of personal connections as well.  Doing so will create incentives for the alum to be interested in your development, and also for the alum to consider you as an affable person because, well, you get along with her!

Secondly, I’d say the major aspect of cultivating any new connection is being actionable.  Especially as it relates to cold calling or cold emailing (which can have a low hit rate), be clear and concise in what your ask is.   People are willing to help, but they’re probably short on time.  Hearing your life story wrapped around a very subtle request won’t move the needle, and what you’re looking for will get pushed under the rug.

Another nuance about networking is the way in which to present yourself.  There’s obviously a fine line between being too forward and boastful vs. hanging too far back in the shadows with no avenue to standing out.  And there is quite a bit of gray area around that line.  I’ve found that teaming with another peer to talk to a professional or alum is helpful because you know each other well enough to mention things the other would want to bring up and your rapport is natural and not manufactured.

It’s also helpful to identify what interests the person you’re interested in interesting (wait, what?) and figure out how that aligns with what you can speak about confidently.  Allow it to come up organically (or with a little strategic nudging) and flash your brilliance, in a tasteful way of course.

Finally, I’d say the key to successful networking is remaining persistent.  As I mentioned, there are many factors pulling at someone’s time, and an eager job searcher may not always top the list.  It’s your responsibility to put in your best effort to get what you need from any networking exercise.  It won’t always come easy, and you won’t always end up with the response you were looking for, but this isn’t like finishing a math test.  There isn’t one right answer, or approach.

Networking may seem daunting, and sometimes even unnecessary or overrated.  I promise it isn’t, because while we’d like the world to be a true meritocracy, it doesn’t always work in such fashion.  Who you know matters, and your relationship with those people matters even more.  But it’s not something to be fearful of, or run from.  It’s frankly just another environment to be yourself and show your best attributes.

Booth’s incredibly strong network helps in the sheer number of people to reach out to, and the ‘Pay It Forward’ culture that has been fostered here means those people are insistent on doing for you what others did for them.  So send an email, make a call.  You’d be surprised where you can go from there.

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