So you made it into an online MBA program! You’ve completed the arduous application process, you’ve paid your fees, you’ve signed up on all the right portals, and you’re participating. You’re an MBA student now! But if you’ve reached this point, you might be wondering if the online program is all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe you feel like you’re missing out on the critically important networking opportunities one might experience in a traditional MBA classroom. Or you’re even starting to panic a little.
Well, you can stop your panic spiral right here. There’s no need to freak out. You can still accomplish networking in an online MBA! Not only might you be able to conduct some of the same interactions you might have in a typical graduate program, but the online format even offers some exclusive opportunities that regular MBA programs don’t have. Take a look at the suggested steps you can take to network in an online MBA program successfully.
Make the Effort
Just remember that networking is essentially building relationships, and relationships take effort. Do you remember the work you put into having a great first or second date with that special someone? Well, networking is a little like that. It’s not that intimate, of course. But to do it well, it takes a combination of image consciousness, careful planning, and a willingness for risk-taking. Even spur-of-the-moment interactions can turn into valuable networking sessions, but they usually don’t happen by accident. It takes initiation and requires effort.
Through Text Interactions
An effort is needed in an in-person MBA experience, but it’s especially prevalent in an online format. According to Psychology Today, the vast majority of in-person communication is non-verbal. More importance is placed on body language and tone of voice. But most online learning programs lean heavily on text-based interactions, which strip away those necessary paralinguistic cues. We try to make up for that deficit with emojis and animated GIFs imported from social media, but it’s not the same.
Through Video Chat
In a video chat format, not everyone will have their camera on the whole time, and it might be focused on their goldfish or some other less-threatening visual instead of their face. In these environments, making impressions and building connections require you to go beyond a minimum threshold of effort. So, if you think you might know the answer to a question, put yourself out there and give it a shot! Don’t wait to be called on; call on yourself.
Through Group Projects
An effort is also crucial in group projects. Did you ever experience high school or undergrad where you had a group project, but 20% of the people did 80% of the work, leaving the other 80% to skate by on the bare minimum? Don’t be one of those people. Put your mark on your group project. Do your part well, and don’t hesitate to help others, as well. People remember goodwill gestures like that. Today’s group participant might be tomorrow’s business contact.
And if you’re in a situation where there’s no group with which to interact, don’t be afraid to start one! After all, that was the inciting incident in the pilot episode of the cult classic NBC sitcom Community, and it worked out pretty well for those folks, right? I mean, Donald Glover is famous now.
Master the Time Dynamics
Online learning portals often have a combination of both real-time and asynchronous interaction. Video chats, phone calls, or text exchanges are examples of interactions that usually happen in real-time. On the other side of the equation, graduate programs often have discussion boards or email chains that exist asynchronously. People are expected to participate in their time frame whenever convenient. Networking well means maximizing the advantages of each time format for maximum benefit.
Real-time interactions tend to be more personal because people respond extemporaneously or “off the top of their heads.” So, if you’re in a real-time exchange, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine a little. Please don’t go overboard with it, but a funny quip or a relatable pop culture reference can go a long way toward bonding you with the people in your discussion group.
On the other hand, take opportunities to contribute asynchronous discussions. Think carefully and write out what you want to say. In these situations, your words are all you have to convey your intended meaning. Just like with real-time interactions, you don’t want to go overboard. It doesn’t need to be appropriately cited texts or thesis statements. But it will help to treat your asynchronous discussion posts like small essays. It will help your writing and you to be more memorable.
Find In-person Opportunities
Many online MBAs also have intensives where the cohort will gather for a weekend or so. If you have the resources and time to attend, use these to your advantage! Meet people in the flesh. Share an Uber or a Lyft ride to or from the airport with someone from your group. Shake hands (or bump elbows if you want to be extra COVID-safe). If you make a connection, take a selfie with someone. Share meals and chat over drinks.
These, by the way, are some of the best times to engage in social media. Not so you can be off to the side-scrolling on your phone instead of talking to someone – unless you need the alone time, then, by all means, scroll away – but to continue a connection online with someone you met in person. A random Facebook or LinkedIn request from someone I don’t know, I’ll often ignore. But the person who just made me laugh, or who blew my mind sharing some new idea or concept? That’s a person with whom I want to stay in contact. Even if you don’t use social media, keep many business cards handy to make a quick exchange. That’s how you enrich your intensive experience and turn it into a networking experience.
Ask the Experts for Help
If none of these strategies are successful for you, it’s okay to ask for help! Nobody is perfect at this stuff. If you were, you wouldn’t need the MBA; you’d already be out there changing the world and making crazy dough.
If you want help in learning the ropes of your program, check with your graduate program’s alumni association to see if a recent alumnus is willing to talk to you. Bonus points if you can find one in your area, especially one who’s willing to pay for lunch, and if it’s someone who got their MBA online. They may share what worked and didn’t work for them. Learn from their successes and failures.
Authors and Professors
You might be able to low-key land a mentor by reaching out to an expert in your desired field or industry sector. If you don’t have the right business contacts, start by contacting the authors of your primary source texts or by reaching out to the professors of your classes. Authors love to talk about their books, and professors often want to help students who demonstrate an authentic desire to learn.
And after you finish your degree – or even as you anticipate finishing – it’s always a good idea to contact folks at the school’s career center. Even if it’s more oriented toward undergraduates than graduate students, it’s still a good idea to reach out. After all, schools look good when they can bolster their post-degree job statistics, so it’s in their best interest to help you find the opening to your desired career path.
As a reminder, here are ten things you can do to network in an online MBA program:
- Make an effort to build relationships
- Stay active during group projects
- Leverage real-time interactions for bonding
- Proofread your asynchronous exchanges for clarity and expression
- Look for in-person opportunities
- Use social media to follow up on in-person connections
- Contact recent alumni for tips and tricks
- Reach out to experts for potential mentorship
- Talk to your professors about the work they do
- Check-in with the campus career center
You made it into the program; now make your program a memorable networking experience. You got this! Good luck.