Networking. Networking. Networking.
Whether it’s a business school seeking to promote their program or a trade association trying to solicit attendees to come to their event, everybody wants you to know that their conference or their cocktail party or their charity event will help you with networking. All of these organizations want you to believe that serendipity will magically appear at their events and give you that golden ticket relationship you’ve been looking for. This type of networking is what I call casual networking – the type of networking where you briefly chat to someone, maybe do the obligatory card swap, and then depart never to speak with the person again. Don’t get me wrong; meeting new people, especially people in the same industry or profession, does have its benefits.
One of the benefits I often experience with casual networking is benchmarking, the ability to anecdotally compare your company with others. These casual networking events are also where client seekers (i.e., consultants and lawyers) lurk in the wings waiting to pounce on any person who smells, walks, or looks like a potential client. The less experienced client seekers are the most transparent because they have not yet learned the subtle art form of soliciting business while also seeming genuine.
If you’re weary of casual networking, then you need what I call immersive networking. Immersive networking is more than an exchange of clichéd pleasantries or forced conversations. With immersive networking you get past the awkward stage and connect at a deeper level with an individual. Immersive networking leads to real contacts based on real relationships that lead to real results. Immersive networking is what you can gain in an executive MBA program.
So far in the Kenan-Flagler OneMBA Class of 2014, at least four different business ventures have started among classmates who 22 months ago didn’t even know each other existed. At least three of these ventures have started under the guidance of OneHEEL Partners, LLC, an equity management company formed by colleagues in the Class of 2014 who have leveraged their immersive networking experience into a dynamic business arrangement. These relationships likely would not have been built at a casual networking event.
With casual networking, you try to leverage a 10 minute conversation and turn it into the job of a lifetime. With immersive networking, you develop a real relationship between two parties that has mutual benefits. Immersive networking generally requires multiple meetings and interactions and creates a relationship where people work with you out of mutual friendship and respect and not as a way just go get rid of you.
Most executive MBA programs link you together with a cohort of individuals for an intensive period of study, usually at least for 18-24 months. These individuals generally come from many different business sectors and often from different regions of the country. You spend most of the 18-24 months getting to know these people fairly well, which provides you with lifelong contacts and resources that would never have developed from casual networking. This doesn’t mean throw casual networking out the window; it just means recognize that such networking provides only shallow relationships, if that. It also means you should look for immersive networking opportunities, and if you’re really bold an executive MBA program.
Lee Lowder is an attorney who is pursuing his MBA at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler’s Business School. HIs previous posts: