In the world of business, there is still much truth to the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” A solid MBA degree is certainly help ful in tersm of landing a good job, but having the right contacts can put your career on the fast track.
Business schools worldwide acknowledge the importance of networking and organize events and activities accordingly. Formal networks and alumni-student mentoring programs foster deeper relations that carry over into the professional realm.
A major selling point for business school programs operating in China is that they offer China-focused students the chance to extend a deeper network of local roots with classmates, professors and locals.
“China has a culture of networking – the guanxi system – so the informal network is very strong among our alumni and students,” said Lydia Price, program academic director and associate dean at China Europe International Business School (CEIBS).
For instance, CEIBS and Shanghai Jiaotong compete in the annual Sunny Cup, pitting the two student bodies against each other in a variety of sports competitions. Events like this and Shanghai Jiaotong’s own school-wide golf tournament double as training sessions for honing business social skills in an informal environment.
Connecting with others through a shared alma mater remains the backbone of formal networking. Alumni clubs worldwide usually offer internships, advice, scholarships and job opportunities to students both while enrolled and after graduation. Researching the cohesion and character of any business school’s alumni networks before choosing a program is worthwhile.
“There are many cases of CEIBS alumni starting businesses together and working together on projects,” said Price. “Many graduates put the CEIBS logo on their name cards, as a way to quickly catch the eye of fellow alumni.”
Since 1995, CEIBS has graduated 6,000 students from its MBA and EMBA programs. Including its Executive Education Program, which provides executives and companies with tailor-made and open-enrollment development programs, the total number of alumni exceeds 60,000.
While the formal, school-oriented networks between these graduates may be strong, the informal networks are larger – those 60,000 graduates have friends in the professional world unattached to CEIBS.
In addition to encouraging local connections, many MBA programs also offer study abroad options to forge new friendships and connect classmates internationally. On the extreme end, Webster University will launch a five-stop MBA program this autumn, in which students will spend time on campuses in Vienna, the Netherlands, London, Geneva and Shanghai, all in an 11-month period.
A globalized economy means students must have experience meeting and greeting – if not working alongside – people from around the world.
Networking on the net
Yet networking in today’s business environment is much more than cocktail parties, golf outings or – in China’s case – baijiu-soaked banquets.
Websites such as BNI, GBN and Ryze take existing formal alumni and MBA networks and fuse them with other databases of international information. Dozens of other sites, like 25,000-member-strong www.foreignmba.com are dedicated to helping connect MBA alumni, regardless of where they attended school.
What’s more, these business-oriented networks flourish alongside personal blogs and social networking sites. Myspace, Facebook and LinkedIn are now keeping alumni and business acquaintances in touch – and across greater distances than before. Profiles and resumés on such sites are also accessible to potential employers.
“I certainly have an online persona… that crosses the line between personal and business,” said Jesse Mendez, editor of Human Resources magazine in Chengdu and graduate of Webster University’s MBA program.
Tom Petersen, director of USC Marshall-Shanghai Jiaotong’s EMBA program, agrees that connections are being made in a variety of settings.
“Often ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ networks overlap, so there is synergy between the alumni and personal networks that our graduates and participants have nurtured,” he said.
Armed with these new tools, alumni like Mendez are navigating their careers between contacts both in “the real world” and cyberspace.
“I use the internet to find the people that I eventually hope to meet and work with,” he said. “But nothing beats eye contact.”