Current students and alumni are invaluable sources of insights and information when researching business schools. However, there are some things you will want to keep in mind as you approach these networking conversations. 

Today, we’re highlighting four of our favorite networking tips:

1.Do your basic research first. Alumni and current students are best leveraged after you have done your preliminary research on your target schools. You are contacting them because you are interested in getting personal insights to supplement and reinforce what you’ve learned from rankings, websites and third-party sources. 

These conversations can give depth and life to a school’s community, classroom, educational experience and network (to name just a few things), and they are also an opportunity for you to raise any questions or concerns that arose during your research. Having a working knowledge of the school will allow you to maximize these interactions and ensure you are not asking questions that are best answered by the school’s website.    

2. Finding connections. We realize not every applicant knows someone who has pursued an MBA. This is why we have Admissions podcasts (Experience Darden | The ExecMBA Podcast) and a blog where we regularly share student stories and interviews. And it’s also why we encourage prospective students to reach out to Darden students and alumni. However, before you begin this outreach, you may want to spend a few minutes exploring your personal and professional networks for any potential connections.  

If you’re on LinkedIn, you have access to a powerful resource that can help you identify people in your network who are pursuing or have pursued an MBA. Spend some time on the LinkedIn pages for the schools you are targeting. The “My Employer” tab will allow you to identify anyone at your current company who attended the school. 

In addition, the “Alumni” section of the school page contains a host of useful information. It will display alumni you may know and allow you to search the alumni base by title, keyword or company and filter by dates attended. You can also view school alumni by where they live, where they work, what they do as well as how you’re connected to members of this network. Clicking on any of the graph bars will display the alumni who live in that location, work at that employer, etc.      

3. Be specific. Darden students and alumni are happy to share their experience, but they are also very busy. Rather than sending an email with a long list of questions, we recommend a short email introducing yourself and requesting a phone call (15-20 minutes). In this email, be sure to indicate the one or two questions you would like to discuss during the phone call. That’s right, one or two questions. And know that it may take a couple weeks for the student or alum to get back to you. Patience is a virtue — especially when it comes to this kind of outreach! 

Once you’ve scheduled the call, you will want to make sure you are prepared for the conversation. Be ready to introduce yourself and briefly share a little more about your background. You should also expect to talk about why you’re interested in an MBA, what attracted you to Darden and your goals post-MBA. And, last but not least, make sure to follow up the call with a thank you email. Small details and organization in the research process can go a long way.   

4. Be targeted. In the research process, rather than contacting 15 or 20 current students or alumni, we recommend taking a more targeted approach. After all, at this stage of the process, you’re really just trying to determine if a school should be on your application shortlist. Plus, if you are admitted, there will be no shortage of opportunities for you to connect with students and alumni, so no need to overdo it in this early phase. 

With this in mind, focus on 3 or 4 people with whom you share a common interest or background. This could be an academic area, undergraduate institution, career goal or some other point of potential connection. This will allow you to be more intentional in your outreach, and being able to reference a commonality will also indicate to the recipient that you have done some research and this is not a blanket request. 

The Full-Time MBA Student Ambassador webpage as well as the club leadership pages on the Darden website are great places to look for potential student contacts. Check out some of our tips for contacting the student ambassadors here. However, before you reach out to anyone, we recommend looking them up on LinkedIn so you have a better sense of their background and experiences.

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