Do you have a strategy for networking in graduate school? How important do you think your network will be for landing a position when you finish your program?
The number of job placements in the “hidden job market” (positions that are filled without a public job posting) is estimated to be 70%-80% of all job placements, depending on the source. USA Today College puts the number at 80%. Statistics pulled from the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 70% of all jobs are found through networking. A 2016 survey by the Adler Group has the number at 85%.
Prioritizing time and effort for networking during graduate school is one of our most frequently shared tips for graduate students.
This article is a collection of networking tips from experienced deans, professors, and program directors who answered the following question:
Can you think of a student of yours who was especially good at developing relationships and networking? In your opinion, what did this student do differently than most Master’s students?
If you feel lost on the subject of networking in graduate school, then the thoughtful, practical advice below is a good place to start creating a strategy for building your network.
Still applying to graduate school? You might be interested in our GRE prep articles.
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Good Networking is Reciprocal – How Can You Benefit Them?
One of my most successful students once gave an address to her peers and told them,
“If you want to establish professional relationships, start with the expectation of getting nothing back right away. Give some effort to a project or do something for a person and then expect them to feel they know you or that they see you as part of their professional circle.”
She was not advocating letting herself be taken advantage of, but she was pointing out that viewing people only for how they can help you is not as successful in networking as figuring out how you can help them and starting a relationship that way.
Elizabeth Boling, MFA
Professor of Instructional Systems Technology and Interim Executive Associate Dean
School of Education, Indiana University Bloomington
Start with a Genuine Interest in the Other Person and Their Work
Typically my students think that successful networking is an outgrowth of extroversion and expertise. That is, the best networkers are just those who are really outgoing and love doing it and/or have something very specific to offer. Over the years we’ve assessed the top MBA networkers at Owen in the classroom (in courses on Leading Teams and Organizations and Managerial and Organizational Effectiveness) and the attributes of the most effective networkers outside the classroom (in the Leadership Development Program).
What consistently characterizes those with the widest spanning and highest quality networks are three other approaches and attributes – curiosity, empathy, and openness.
In terms of curiosity it’s a passion for learning in general and about others. Such a learning orientation conveys a genuine interest in others that is not merely instrumental. Networking grounded in curiosity is a source of growth and not superficial. It’s essential to overcoming the “ick” factor that many associate with networking.
Empathy is evident in their desire to more fully explore and understand others’ perspectives (i.e., their “story,” their background, their expertise, their aspirations). The best networkers are those who engage in such perspective-taking in classroom (in-class or through team projects), personal (e.g., socializing at school events or even informally), and professional (e.g., recruiting) contexts. Empathy is essential because it indicates interest in caring about others’ goals and helping them achieve them.
Openness is characteristic of our best networkers because they rapidly build the psychological safety that is essential to effective networking. By disclosing about oneself and exhibiting vulnerability about areas where they might need help it exemplifies taking an interpersonal risk and signals to the other part that it’s safe for them to do so in turn. Openness also creates the possibility for unusual or unexpected connections. If you’re open about yourself, you’re sharing more of your interests and that might include unique ones (e.g., doing magic) that may spark a meaningful connection, quickly.
The best MBA networkers overcome the barriers to networking – feeling uncomfortable, fearing they’re being too instrumental or using others, and lack of psychological safety – with genuine curiosity, empathy, and openness.
Timothy J. Vogus, PhD
Brownlee O. Currey, Jr., Professor of Management
Owen Graduate School of Management, Vanderbilt University
In my experience, the more successful MBA students who are good at networking are people who look for opportunities to connect with others around true authentic interests that they want to communicate about.
The least successful students are ones who treat the exercise as checking a box who don’t have a real interest in the topic or field around which they are connecting.
This really makes a big difference from the point of view of what the result is. Authentic interest builds authentic connection and relationships.
Amy Wrzesniewski, PhD
Professor of Organizational Behavior
Yale School of Management
One of the most effective ways of networking is to identify an area that is of particular interest to you and to attend local, regional or national professional or trade association meetings.
This puts you in touch with people working in the industry or working on issues that excite you. Your interest and excitement in the area make it easier to engage in conversations with those you meet and your excitement for the subject often comes through in these conversations.
My favorite story in this vein concerns a student I had who was interested in airlines and wanted to work in the airline industry. I encouraged him to attend a national trade association meeting that was taking place locally. The meeting required a hefty registration fee, but he told the association that he was a student and offered to help out at the convention. They let him attend for free. He met several industry executives in his role of helper and eventually landed a job at American Airlines based on the contacts he made at that meeting.
The moral of the story is that you need to go where the industry people meet. Don’t wait for them to come to you.
Bob Windle, PhD
Professor of Logistics, Business and Public Policy and Assistant Dean for Doctoral Programs
Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland
The Master’s students who best demonstrate an ability to network and develop relationships with are those who are proactive in reaching out to the faculty, staff and their peers throughout the matriculations and have a desire to be mentored.
Students who are most successful gain relationship through a consistent, persistent effort. This is not a loud boisterous manner, but rather in a positive, curious, humble manner in which they truly seek knowledge and wisdom from those who have “gone before them”.
In the world of nursing, for example, exceptional graduate students commonly reach out to role models in clinical practice, those who have completed research or contributed innovation. As a learner, they are not intimidated, but rather are eager and enthusiastic about the opportunity to engage. They seek guidance, advice, storytelling or simply witnessing practice experiences and are always grateful for the “extra opportunity”.
Also, they don’t WAIT to be invited, they proactively reach out and invite themselves; professionally ask about the possibility of having a mentored experience from someone they admire, respect, want to gain insight from and when they time is set—they SHOW UP with enthusiasm.
I, as a faculty member, ALWAYS welcome this type of student and find them to be motivating, inspiring and the best possible type of learner. Interestingly, these are always the first students to be hired after graduation, the first to get promotions, the first to succeed.
Anne Derouin, DNP, CPNP, FAANP
Associate Professor and Faculty Lead, PNP-PC/MSN Program
School of Nursing, Duke University
Master’s students are commonly good at networking but not always effective at building meaningful and valuable connections.
Part of this stems from the fact that we gravitate toward like-minded people who are similar to us. This often is good for building social support but it’s bad for building social capital.
What differentiates someone with a good network from others is that s/he is planful and deliberate about building it. It’s much more about forethought and effort than charisma.
There are three steps that Brian Uzzi and others have identified for people seeking to build their networks effectively.
- Map your network. Who is in it? Do you know?
- Build better networks by seeking out relationships that can bring us novel information or perspective. When a student looks at their network mapped out, what skills or industries are represented? What are the redundancies and what are the gaps?
- Who are the brokers in his/her network–i.e., the people who have introduced them to several others? Maintain the trust of these people and seek their advice about how to form strong and meaningful connections.
Elizabeth M. Campbell, PhD
Assistant Professor of Work and Organizations
Carlson School of Management, University of Minnesota
The students who were successful at networking came to Stanford University with a list of professors that they had researched and investigated before coming to Stanford. When they arrived here at Stanford, they began contacting the faculty on their list immediately–during their first few weeks of arriving here on campus.
They set up a 1-on-1 meeting with the few names that were of interest to them and talked about the faculty member’s research and about their own long-term interests and goals. Once they had met with these professors, they checked back in with them about once a quarter or took a class with that professor. The work they completed in the class was always of the highest quality and turned in on time.
This always makes a good impression and professors are generally always ready to be of assistance to the students who take this type of initiative on their own.
Arnetha F. Ball, PhD
Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education and Chair, Race, Inequality, and Language in Education Program (RILE)
Graduate School of Education, Stanford University
Does the idea of strategically networking make you feel nervous? Especially for introverts, the stereotypical model of networking at an event can be really intimidating.
Check out this video from Charisma on Command to learn some strategies for networking as an introvert.
Tactics for Networking in Graduate School
That’s a tough question because there is networking and relationships with professors, staff, students, and employers.
Students should try to network and develop relationships in all four categories because they can gain different perspectives. The best way to gain relationships is to set time aside away from technology and crowds to talk and listen.
Lou Gattis, PhD
Clinical Professor of Finance, Faculty Director for MBA and EMBA Programs
Smeal College of Business, Pennsylvania State University
I think a big mistake many MBA students engaging in networking make is first focusing on individuals they can reach out to. Rather, they should first consider the enterprises they seek to engage with and then look for individuals within those enterprises to make contact with.
Specifically interested in landing an interview with a company – isolate the company first – then look for someone inside the company that you can connect to.
Mark A. Cohen, MBA
Director of Retail Studies and Adjunct Professor
Graduate School of Business, Columbia University
It’s really important to take classes with faculty your first semester and establish a strong and positive reputation for yourself.
That means giving it your all in your classes, being there for your classmates, and raising your hand for any opportunities that come your way.
Let your professors know what you are excited about and ask them how you could seek out more opportunities to deepen your learning in that area.
Be proactive. Be fearless. Once we know you, we will think to recommend you for other opportunities like assistantships and leadership roles. So, try to hit the ground running with curiosity, enthusiasm, critique, hard work, and relationship building.
Good things often follow.
Martha Bigelow, PhD
Professor of Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education and Human Development, University of Minnesota
Don’t underestimate the importance of networking during your graduate school program. Having a strong professional network can be the deciding factor for whether you achieve your goals during and after graduate school
You don’t have to be a charismatic extrovert to be an effective networker, but you do need a strategy and you will need to devote time and energy to the process.
My challenge to you: Take one of the tips offered by a professor above and actually try it out. You might be surprised by what comes from it.