Balancing In-Person and Digital Networking Techniques
When it comes to succeeding in business these days, having friends in high places across many industries can go a long way in increasing your odds of finding a new career or job. In fact, recent surveys show nearly 85 percent of career positions are filled by networking, making it by and large the most important thing you can do to increase your hiring potential.1
But when it comes to studying online, prospective students are often concerned with whether they will receive the same opportunities to connect and collaborate with their peers and professors as students on campus do.
"One of my concerns with doing an online program," current Online MBA student at William & Mary Heather Pierce said, "was whether or not I would really get that peer-to-peer interaction that you'd get in a normal program. And it's been great. We've had a lot of great collaborations. They put us into small groups. I really appreciate the fact that they try to pair us with a diverse group of people."
Aside from professors actively encouraging students to collaborate in the virtual classroom, what can students in an online program do to broaden their network?
How to Network in an Online MBA Program
1. Set up your digital datebook.
Before starting the program, be sure you have updated your LinkedIn profile. If you don't have one, now's the time for you to create yours. Not only will this help you passively find roles moving forward, it can be one of the most effective tools for maintaining professional connections, almost like a digital datebook and resume.
As you enter the program and complete courses, try to add as many of your classmates as possible to your professional network on LinkedIn. This way you can grow your network and stay in touch as you progress.
Plus, when you are not physically in the classroom together, you may find it difficult to introduce yourself to someone, but with a strong digital presence, you can ensure your classmates can get in touch with you when they want to outside of class. A quick Google search will reveal your LinkedIn account and give them somewhere to find out more about you. So make sure yours says what you want it to about yourself!
2. Get to know your classmates and professors.
If you're in an online master's program, this is not the time to clam up or shut down. If you want to maximize your time in an online MBA program, you need to push yourself out of your shell and put yourself out there to really get to know people.
Don't hesitate to reach out to your peers, and make sure that when you do, you're not limiting yourself to discussing coursework alone. Try to make friends in the program, because you never know, these friendships could very well last a lifetime.
Similarly, don't hesitate to reach out to your professors as well. They are some of your strongest resources in the program and want to help you in any way they can, even if it's before or after class. If you have questions, send a quick email or ask to speak via phone or video call.
Nowadays, it's never been easier to connect with someone from afar—simply give someone a ring, a Skype or Google Hangouts call, or chat on Slack or some other messaging software. Your options are as open as you want them to be.
3. Schedule time to meet up outside of class.
Regardless of where you live, find out where your classmates are located. If they're nearby, try to schedule a quick coffee date, study session or a simple meetup, so you can get to know them in person as well. If not, maybe try calling a classmate when you have a question instead of relying on emailing. Make it personal where you can.
Keep in mind that those in an online MBA program are often very experienced professionals. For instance, the William & Mary Online MBA program boasts students from almost 150 different undergraduate institutions and with an average of 12 years of work experience, a significant chunk of time to be working in the field. Think of the connections someone with 12 years of experience may already have.
By networking with a mix of both emerging and established professionals, you can ensure your network is strong enough to take you places now and later, should you need a little help from your friends.
4. Choose an MBA program with a residency.
Even if you maximize opportunities to meet up outside of class and attend any scheduled events nearby, you still may feel as though you missed out on the true university experience with the traditions that are rooted to the campus itself.
Don't worry yet—many MBA programs, for instance, offer or require their students to attend at least one weekend residency. Residencies present one of the best and most effective means of connecting directly with professionals, peers, colleagues, cohort members, faculty and staff, on-campus career resources, and other students at varying academic levels.
For instance, William & Mary's residencies feature a unique opportunity to meet industry leaders and lecturers, keynote speakers, and, best of all, the Executive Partners, a choice group of retired professionals who offer their insights to W&M students. This way, you can network, learn from those in the field directly, and get to know the unique traditions of the Tribe in person.
Although students are only required to attend one residency during their W&M Online MBA, they are invited and encouraged to attend as many residencies as they'd like. If you live nearby or simply have the available time, this is something you should strongly consider doing.
5. Utilize your university's alumni and career services.
Thankfully, for the more introverted readers here, your university understands the importance of having such a strong and broad network that you could practically trust-fall into it. Most universities offer a variety of networking and career services for current students and alumni, especially for online MBA candidates.
From coaching and workshops to career advisors and job search databases, you should always explore a university's career services before committing to an MBA program. What they offer may be what lands you a job after graduation, so the more you can find out earlier on, the better. Get ready to take advantage of whatever resources they have available.
They've also been accumulating network connections for decades now and offer various resources to both current students and alumni. And no one is more willing to help you than alumni are. Always remember that you are a part of the student body, the school's community and their greater overall network, even if they don't have a required on-campus component.
You may never set foot on the campus, but your success directly reflects on the university you choose to attend—and vice versa. Not only does your university want a high percentage of graduates to be happily and gainfully employed as soon as possible after graduating for their own rankings, they want you to succeed so you can then strengthen their network and help future students.
No matter what, try to remember where you started and how hard it was to get your foot in a company's door—stay humble, thankful and willing to help your alma mater and their students advance in the business world. After all, isn't it nice to have someone there to scratch your back when you need them to?
Put Your Networking Skills to Work
Whether you're more of a people person or more on the quiet side, you need to be able to connect and network with others. Your very success in the business world may hinge on your ability to do so.
By relying on the measures we've outlined above, you should be able to increase your chances at making long-term friends and potentially strong business connections in your MBA program. Remember, at the end of the day, they want the same things you do—professional success, personal fulfillment and respect.
If you're ready to start networking, check out what some of William & Mary's current Online MBA students have to say about how they've collaborated successfully in the program so far, or learn how many programs are debunking the stigma of studying online.
NOTE: William & Mary does not directly recommend or support the above-mentioned applications or products.
1 Retrieved on October 3, 2017, from linkedin.com/pulse/new-survey-reveals-85-all-jobs-filled-via-networking-lou-adler/