If you’re considering business school, make sure you understand the importance of working the MBA room.

Unlike your undergrad network, MBA alumni are engaged, loyal and open to opportunity. What’s more, while undergrad connections tend to fizzle out as lives grow apart, the substance and significance of an MBA network only increases over time. You’ll be signing up to a club of ambitious and committed like-minded people, all heading for, or already achieving, success.

What can an MBA network do for me?

Cass Business School considers networking so critical to success they teach it as part of their curriculum. The benefits are both short term and lifelong.

Boost your career prospects. More than ever, employers are relying on informal referrals to find the right candidates. The Financial Times describes MBA networks as “catalysts for career opportunities”. And with 93% of London Business School graduates finding employment within three months, and students bagging an average salary increase of 97%, it’s clear why (FT Global MBA Ranking 2015).

Get further, faster. Once you land that job, the expertise and resources in your network will help drive your career forward faster. In fact, almost a third of the world’s 500 largest listed companies are led by an MBA graduate (FT Global MBA Ranking 2015). And should you decide to strike out on your own, you’ll have access to potential business partners, mentors with expertise in every fathomable area, investors and talented employees.

Who will I connect with?

Many of your fellow students will go on to become highly successful individuals. Otherwise, why would they be there? Of course, you’ll also rub shoulders with established business leaders, among them your tutors and industry guest-speakers. Henley’s music MBA steering committee boasts some of the most influential names on the UK and US music scene. Ashridge has hosted Oscar-winning film-maker Lord Puttnam, and Brunel organises speed consulting sessions with business folk at the very top of their game.

How do I make an MBA network count?

The more prestigious the school, the stronger and more valuable the network. But when it comes to getting the most out of your opportunities, it’s what you do that counts.

Start early. Reach out to MBA alumni before you pick your school, and then get networking as soon as you start. Kiran Ramakrishna, who completed an MBA at Durham University Business School, advises that you attend events, use LinkedIn, make time for coffee, offer help when it might be useful and have the courage to ask for help yourself. The rewards are worth the investment. “At the end of six months you’ll have access to at least 10 people you know well who can connect you to at least another 100, and so on. About three to six months before finishing, when it comes to approaching the companies you’re targeting, ask for help from all your contacts. Ideally, you’ll get three to five interviews.

Don’t expect quick wins. You should allow at least six months to progress from being a mere acquaintance to someone a contact likes and trusts. If you jump straight into asking favours you’ll come across as insincere and rub people up the wrong way. Networking guru Andy Lopata suggests sharing links to news of interest after the initial meeting; then you’re adding value first. Striking a more personal note is important too. Remember birthdays and enquire about family to build a network of substance and not just trophy contacts.

Don’t rely on social media. While LinkedIn and Twitter are great ways to make new connections, don’t expect digital introductions to be enough on their own. “Those who are astute will use any opportunity to meet employers face to face and really focus on maintaining personal connections,” says Clare Cassidy, a careers consultant at Durham University Business School.

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