In our latest ebook, The MBA Guide To Networking, we featured author Thom Singer who reminded us that opportunities come from the people around us, not the college degree we hold, the long hours we dedicate to our efforts or even the many accomplishments we gather. Yet, many of us still spend a career collecting these things. Sure, our initial entry into the workforce may be influenced by these factors but our career is driven more by the relationships we build. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of all jobs are found through networking. Now a job is just one type of opportunity but if networking is this effective for a job, just imagine what it can do for the other things you seek.

As an MBA student or graduate, you have the unique advantage of being part of a program that develops leaders, managers and other influential professionals in the workforce. Is there a better group of people to be affiliated with, especially if you’re a student with limited experience? To help answer this question, I’ve talked to a few MBAs who spend their time connecting professionals together to build and grow great careers.

Colette Symanowitz is an MBA graduate from GIBS in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the founder of MBAconnect.net, a popular social network for MBAs to market their services, access MBA-level job opportunities, share knowledge, hold business events and much more. Symanowitz has also launched re-branded versions of MBAconnect.net for Wits Business School, South Africa’s leading business school in terms of MBA rankings, and other business schools, as well as for other niche communities such as BCom Connect(aimed at BCom students from all institutes around South Africa). Symanowitz believes that becoming part of a group or association is critical for your career and highlights the following advantages of such membership:

* growing your network of high-calibre people (and the opportunities this gives you access to in terms of career advancement, growing your business and your client base, etc.),
* gaining business knowledge and staying current on the latest business thinking,
* recreating the high-level interaction of the MBA classroom, which you often don't get in the workplace,
building your brand as a thought leader in your area of expertise, and
* cross-pollination of ideas across industries, which helps you unlearn the way of thinking you've developed from your previous, industry-specific training.

Damon Mackey, CEO of Catalyst (www.catalystmaster.com) in Japan, works solely with MBAs to facilitate research, book ordering, internship and career needs while providing a quality circle where MBAs can communicate with other MBA programs all over the world. Mackey identifies the largest benefit of the MBA as “access to the network,” which includes your classmates, MBA networking events, and groups on the internet such as MBA Network International (which can be found on LinkedIn). Mackey also identifies other benefits, including:

* growing your network by connecting with weak ties (i.e. those that you do not regularly meet with or outside of your inner circle),
* expanding your comfort zone and building confidence, and
* improving your cultural intelligence through meeting others from different backgrounds.

To put Mackey’s advice into perspective, it’s useful to review the words of Reid Hoffman’s interview with CNN Money (24 Jan 2012). If you don’t know Reid Hoffman, he’s the creator of LinkedIn. In this excerpt, Hoffman posits:

"In 1973, when sociologist Mark Granovetter asked a random sample of professionals how they had found their new job. It turns out that 82% of them found their position through a contact they saw only occasionally or rarely. In other words, the contacts who referred jobs were "weak ties." Granovetter accounts for this result by explaining that your good friends tend to be from the same industry, neighborhood, religious group, etc. Consequently, their information is similar to yours -- a job a good friend knows about, you probably already know about too. Weak ties, however, usually sit outside the inner circle. Thus, there's a greater likelihood that a weak tie will be exposed to new information..."

Networking is a give and take relationship that focuses on opportunity. You’re either providing an opportunity for someone else or they are providing one for you. Mackey suggests that networking should be 80% what you can do for them and 20% what they can do for you. The onus is on you to build rapport, trust and develop real relationships that lead to opportunities. This approach certainly works as Oprah once said that her success was driven by “putting herself in the service of others.” That sounds like a great philosophy.

So, is there any question that you should be joining groups and associations to increase your chances of running into that next big opportunity? There shouldn’t be. Networking is easy. Just go do it. Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. Learn as you go. Give, give, give and your success will grow.

Author's Bio: 

Todd Rhoad is the managing director of BT Consulting, an Atlanta based management and career consulting company. He is the author of Blitz The Ladder and creator of the HENRY Series for MBAs. Todd created MBAWriters, an international group of writers supporting MBAs through contributions to magazines, ezines, blogs and websites. He holds a MSEE and MBA.