Networking requires grace, charm, and common sense, more so than most people—even some MBA wannabes—realize. One of the major reasons people sign up for business school is the chance to create a broad network of contacts, who can help you do everything from land a job to start a business. Some mistakenly believe that plopping down the tuition check is enough to get the ball moving. Others think that acting as you would when making friends in your college dorm is the right approach. But networking is a much finer art. The good news is that many MBA students have already committed brutal gaffes, so you can simply learn from their mistakes. Here are some of the more egregious examples of what not to do:
Never say “I love you” first—or ever.
In a previous job at another school, Caitlin Crotty, assistant director of the Career Management Center at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, advised students to use attention-grabbing subject lines in their e-mails to potential employers. One international student used the subject, “I’m in love with your company” before moving on to “I’m in love with you.” When an alum read that revelation, he sent the message to the career placement officials, who promptly gave the student a lesson in e-mail etiquette.
Know who you are talking to.
A student at the University of Western Ontario’s Ivey School of Business once insisted that McKinsey, the global management consulting firm, was in the mutual fund business. (It’s not. That would be Mackenzie Investments of Canada.) After a while the McKinsey execs stopped trying to make a correction, writes Sharon Irwin-Foulon, Ivey’s director of career management, in an e-mail. “Be sure you really know the firm you are meeting, and take cues from company representatives when they are sharing ideas, thoughts, and feedback,” she adds. “These are acts of generosity that you are privileged to receive.”
Avoid snubbing junior staff.
Often, MBA students rally around the authority figure in the room, such as the managing director, and ignore the others, Steven D’Souza, an IE Business School professor and author of Brilliant Networking (FT Press, February 2011), writes in an e-mail. “It’s a big mistake because hiring decisions are often made by team consensus after the event,” he adds. “Students who show poor behavior, even to an administrator or receptionist on arrival, often will be noted by someone.”
Try not to be a walking faux pas.
An Ivey student once entered a company presentation 10 minutes late with a large hot dog he had purchased from a street vendor. Someone on the school’s staff directed him to get rid of the hot dog and take a seat as he was walking in front of the speaker. Tossing the frank into the garbage, he knocked over the bin and the hot dog ended up hitting the wall, sliding slowly to the floor as everyone in the room watched. “If you have to be late, enter gracefully and quietly so as not to disrupt the (typically) senior-level firm speaker at the front of the room,” suggests Irwin-Foulon.
Don’t be the drunk uncle.
Many networking events involve food and drink. But this is not your nephew’s wedding, so don’t even think about boozing it up. D’Souza writes that he has witnessed many MBA students eating and drinking far too much in the company of potential employers. “Networking events, even in informal settings, always have an impact on your career,” he adds. The lesson? Save the partying for the club on Saturday night—or, better yet, for your youth.