Two years ago, Jack Welch told MBA students to concentrate on networking while in school, as 'everything else you need to know, you can learn on the job'. A controversial report from Stanford GSB's Jeffrey Pfeffer found that an MBA has no economic advantage unless from a top-ranked program, and that, with similar curricula across schools, business school is as much about networking and recruiting as it is about education.
Despite having attended numerous management conferences, industry conferences, business dinners, etc. in my career to date, I never really stopped to think about my networking skills. I have no problem making small-talk with table partners, and sure, I have squeezed myself into a huddle around the occasional CxO to get a bit of face time. At a recent management conference, I noticed how a colleague and close friend of mine mostly avoided me and was always engaged with others. Later he confided that he always diligently prepares for these conferences and pretty much knows in advance who he is going to speak to, and what he is going to talk about. At that point, I realized my networking skills sucked.
In the past weeks I have been browsing Kellogg's club websites, and on the investment banking club website, I found a Powerpoint presentation with tips on how to handle company recruiting events. Among the tips were "Don't just stand in a corner talking to other Kellogg students", and "Meet at least two new people at every event". Apparently, I'm not the only MBA student whose networking skills need a bit of work.
I recently picked up a book called Never Eat Alone, and half-way through I can already say it is one of those books I should have read a lot earlier. Networking is not a subject taught in class, and not a skill you're born with (unless your name is Clinton, perhaps). Reading this book has convinced me that it is something you have to learn, and many people would probably be well-advised to learn -- especially students who want to get some value out of their top-10 MBA.