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Working the HBS Network

Harvard Business School students commonly cite the extensive HBS Network as a primary motivator in their school selection. Indeed, MBA graduates report that, in retrospect, networking was the most important part of their job-search activity. Stacey Kessel, HBS Associate Director of MBA Career Services, points out that even those who found jobs via on-campus recruiting strengthened their cause by networking in several ways: meeting with faculty, consulting with HBS classmates who have been employed at specific companies, and contacting alumni before job interviews. Networking experts agree that long-term job satisfaction results from careful, thorough career analysis, such as is necessary in a networked job search. Kessel notes, “Students should be thoughtful and give their career decision some time. By networking, they can make an informed decision.”

Nervous about networking? Take comfort in the fact that you are not alone. Many people feel apprehensive about contacting HBS alumni and wonder what they could possibly have to say to the powerful decision-makers in the Network. Cold calling is painful, right? Marlene Konnar, a Los Angeles-based PR and marketing communications specialist for the science and high-tech industries notes, “You have to be courageous. It’s hard to take someone else’s negativity, and when you are making cold calls it comes with the territory.” HBS students, however, are at a significant advantage because their cold calls are actually very warm. The HBS network is peopled with literally thousands of graduates who have already expressed their enthusiasm for helping current students in their career searches. These generous alums have offered to serve as your Career Advisors and look forward to helping you in your job decision!
A word of advice: get started right away. It takes time to build your network, and if you intend to locate a position through a networked job search, you will need to be patient. In the past years most of the consulting and banking offers were received in January, when the other industries sometimes waited until April and May or thereafter. The sooner you get started, the sooner you will begin to reap the rewards of your efforts. As you network, you will develop a deep knowledge of your industry, a rich array of lifetime contacts, and a detailed sense of the positions that are available. Get your feet on the street and join the 30% of last year’s students who secured their final positions by networking.

Starting Your Search
There are as many networking techniques as there are individuals, but the experts agree on some general guidelines.

1. Look in the mirror.
Before you call anyone, ask yourself some critical questions:

a) Who am I-what do I really want from a career? This may seem obvious, but it is important that you sound focused and enthusiastic when you speak about yourself with strangers. Even if you have no idea what you want to do, develop a story about yourself and your goals for the future, much as you did for your HBS application. Kessel encourages students to find a way to “feel excited and passionate” about their future. If they do not, busy employers will feel little urgency to become engaged in their career search.

b) What is my field of interest? You need a subject or focus, so each networking effort will build on the next. If you have no focus, you will become overwhelmed by the array of options. Pick something. You can always change your mind later. “Determining your goal,” Konnar advises, “is the first step in making it happen.”

c) What is my goal? Take some time to gather information about your subject industry. Go to Baker Library during regular hours and ask a librarian how to locate industry information, related news articles, and data on specific companies. Discover everything you can about the current issues in the industry and the key players in recent events. Narrow your interest to a dozen or so target companies. Now, you are ready to think about your contacts.

d) Who do I know? Networking is all about people. Moreover, Konnar comments, “Networking is really about establishing trust. It truly works when you have an intimate contact.” The best possible contact is a person whom you already know well. The next best is someone who knows someone you know well. This is the point at which you will use the Network. HBS students are fortunate to have an extensive alumni network, stocked with 30,000 graduates who have already stated their willingness to serve as advisors to HBS students. This does not mean that you can count on finding a job. It does mean, however, that your cold calls are likely to be a little more pleasant than they otherwise would be.

2. Send a resum‚ and cover letter.
Your r‚sum‚ is one of your most important job-search tools. It is not, however, the only one. Kessel says, “People focus on the r‚sum‚ because it’s tangible. Remember, though, that you should be concerned about all contact that you have with a company.” The cover letter is a key component in the networked job search. Some cover letter basics:

a) Do not ask for a job. You will receive a much heartier welcome and you will learn much more information if you approach your contact with genuine interest in his or her business. Konnar says, “Busy people are engaged in their work and love to talk about it. Show them how interested you are in them.” Besides, your contact knows you are looking for a job and will have this in mind.

b) Clearly and concisely state who you are and what you want. Fancy prose is not a plus. Your letter is going to a busy person, so cut to the chase. Be direct, mention your connection (“I am a current student at HBS who is interested in learning about positions in the software industry.”), and tell enough of your story to pique the reader’s interest. Your stated goal should be to get a personal informational interview. (An “Infoview” in networking parlance.)

c) Write when you are going to follow up with a phone call. Kessel notes that you can often avoid being screened by an intermediary if you choose a calling time first thing in the morning or after 6:00 pm. WARNING: If you write that you are going to call, you really need to call, or you will lose credibility with the contact.

d) Detail how much time you need. Kessel cautions networkers to choose an amount of time less than 30 minutes in length. Your contact is busy, and you don’t want to have so much time that you run out of conversation.

3. Make the call.
Cold calls are difficult and require careful thought:

a) Take the time to prepare. First, practice your conversation on a trusted friend. You will be surprised how hard it is to avoid stumbling on your first few tries. Second, have a script on hand, so you will remember everything you need to say while you are under pressure. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of a cold call. Konnar says, “Even when you are an experienced networker, once you get that person on the phone, a certain amount of panic sets in.” Careful preparation and a good script will help you achieve your goal.

b) State your connection first. Konnar cautions, “There has been so much telemarketing that people are wary on the phone. If you say your name first and your contact doesn’t recognize it, he or she may hang up.”

c) Be considerate of your contact’s time. Right away, ask if it is a good time to call. If he or she has time to talk, say how much time you need and stick to it quite literally. You are building your relationship and trust from the very first second.

d) Try to get something from the call. If your contact doesn’t think he or she can help you, see if you can get two or three suggestions of people who can. Ask if you can use the contact’s name when you call. This will really build your network.

4. Send a thank-you letter.
You can never be too grateful. Send a very brief thank-you note once you have hung up. If you secured an Infoview, tell your contact how much you are looking forward to the
meeting.

5. Do your homework.
Repeat your research process in greater detail when you have secured an Infoview. Look up everything you can about the company and your contact. Prepare a list of questions, so you can keep your contact talking. Remember, this process is about learning, not about impressing. If the Infoview goes well, you will eventually receive offers for full interviews.

6. Take another r‚sum‚ to your Infoview.
Your contact may ask for another r‚sum‚ or your card. Be prepared. Remember that the goal is to learn about your contact’s career path and experience and about the company. Do not allow yourself to slip into an aggressive, job-search mode. Don’t forget the thank-you note after the Infoview!

7. Be organized.
Start a card file for each industry that you research. On each card, write your contact’s name and position, a chronological record of every contact with that person/company, including letters, calls, interviews, and thank-you’s. Write the general thrust of each conversation. Refer to your cards often, so you will really know your search inside and out.
Although the networked job search is difficult at first, practiced networkers find it challenging and even fun. The thing to keep in mind, Konnar says, is that “People really want to help.” In fact, Konnar believes that job hunters learn much more about their target companies through Infoviews than they ever could through regular interviews. “Before I started networking, I just went to interviews for regularly published job openings. I always felt that something was missing, but I could never put my finger on it. After I started doing Infoviews, I realized that interviewers are nervous. In an Infoview, the approach is much more relaxed and friendly. People are willing to tell you a surprising amount about their business if they feel a personal connection to you.” In the end, those who spend the time and energy to do a networked job search will be rewarded with in-depth knowledge of the industry, intimate knowledge of several companies, and a network that can grow throughout their lives.

Where to Find Help

A fantastic array of tools are available on the Career Services Web site. Here is a sampling to get you started. If you explore the career services website, you will find many more helpful tools.

 Who am I? On the Career Services home page, choose the “Self-Assessment” tab.

 Who do I know? On the Career Services home page, choose the “Network Development” tab. Choose “Alumni” from the menu on the left of the screen. Then choose “Alumni Advisors” and select the “Advanced Search” button. You can choose from the HBS Network by geography, industry, function, and even by company.

 Sample Cover Letters On the Career Services home page, choose the “Skill Development” tab. Look to the menu on the left and choose “Writing Cover Letters.” Click the “Sample Cover Letters” heading.

 Interview Questions On the Career Services home page, choose the “Skill Development” tab. Choose the “Interviewing” link from the menu on the left. Click on the headings that interest you.

Also, use your Career Services office. Set up an appointment, ask for a phone script, and ask for advice particular to your individual job search. The Office of Career Services offers many personalized tips.

December 3, 2001
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