10 Tips for Mastering the Art of Networking

May 7, 2024

For some MBA students, the idea of sending a cold email or walking up to a stranger at a reception sparks excitement. A new job opportunity or a major sale could be only one conversation away. For others, networking makes them break out into a cold sweat.

For better or for worse, networking is a core professional skill that can make or break a career. The Baylor University Career Center aims to equip MBA students with the networking know-how they need not only to find a position but to succeed in it. 

Below, Amine Qourzal, assistant director of the Baylor University Career Center, is joined by Ty Taylor, a current Online MBA student who works as an area sales manager for Performance Food Service, in offering a list of tips for networking in a strategic, effective way. 

1. Start with soft outreach. 

If Amine is advising a student who wants to reach out to a potential contact—for example, an alumna working for a company that interests them—he recommends soft outreach in the form of a “well-crafted and polite” email or LinkedIn message that lets the recipient know how the person obtained their contact information. 

“Starting with a phone call or an office drop-in can feel aggressive and give a negative first impression,” Amine said. 

In future conversations, a phone conversation or text would be more appropriate. 

2. Make it easy for the other person.

In his sales role, Ty is constantly looking for openings to engage with a prospective or current client in a way that suits their schedule. If the client only has a short window, he offers to go to them and have coffee at their office. If they seem like they want to take a break offsite, Ty offers to pick them up and take them to lunch or give them a tour of his company’s warehouse. Read the room and do whatever you can to make the other person’s life easier. 

3. Discover what you have in common.

When meeting someone for the first time, “explore what you have in common and how that can be the framework of your new relationship,” Amine said. 

When it is a shared Baylor experience, a passion for an industry or company, or a hobby, there is always a thread of connection to discover. 

“I can use anything to get an ‘in’ with someone,” Ty said. “Talk about what food you enjoy cooking or what their home culture is like if they are international. Talk about sports teams and hometowns. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to find overlap.” 

Writing down the details of a conversation so that you can remember them for next time will prove valuable in the long run. As a sales manager, Ty maintains “spreadsheets on spreadsheets” with client details, but any job seeker can create a simple Excel document to note points of connection, whether it is a child the same age or a shared love of running. 

4. Aim for quality over quantity of connections.

Every new meeting or conversation can build a network, but quality matters more than quantity of connection.

Someone who is deeply engaged in a conversation, even if there is a roomful of potential contacts to meet, makes others feel valuable and appreciated. The opposite is true when their eyes are constantly wandering to scan the room for the next conversation. 

“I recommend treating networking events more like a first date rather than speed-dating,” Amine said. “Rather than meeting as many people as possible, focus on having solid one-on-one conversations. That is the key to opening doors.” 

5. Prioritize follow-up. 

For Ty, follow-up is the “name of the game.” He spends entire days and weeks checking in on current and prospective clients to ask how he can support them.

“It may sound cheesy, but I always tell them, ‘I’m not here to sell you; I’m here to serve you,’” Ty said. 

At the Baylor Career Center, Amine recommends that job seekers send a thank you note after a meeting, call or interview to express appreciation for the other person’s time and interest. Returning to show gratitude goes a long way in cementing connections. 

6. Seize opportunities for face-to-face connection. 

After an initial outreach, there is no replacement for meeting someone face-to-face, whether it is at a formal event or at a coffee shop. 

“Everyone is glued to a screen these days, so you have to really work to get around it,” Ty said. 

While there is tremendous value in conversation over a video or phone call, people are far more likely to let down their guard and make a more personal connection when they meet in person. In-person meetings, in turn, are more likely to stand out in their mind and lead to positive interactions in the future.

7. Focus on offering value to the other person.

A common concern about networking is that reaching out to a stranger and asking for a conversation or connection will seem awkward or disingenuous. In reality, though, the most successful professionals have climbed the ladder through networking. When approached in a respectful, courteous way, they are usually happy to return the help they have received from others by discussing their experience or making an introduction. This is especially true when the other person attempts to bring something of value to the table. 

“Showing genuine interest in maintaining a connection and being authentic will offer more value than anything else,” Amine said. “I also recommend connecting with a new contact on LinkedIn and engaging with their professional content to demonstrate commitment to their work and desire to keep the conversation going.” 

8. Never burn a bridge.

Recently, Ty walked into a food show full of strangers. He ended up running into two undergraduate classmates and a recruiter he had worked with previously. 

“I showed up and immediately saw three people I knew from 10 years ago, which just goes to show that you never know where the bridges you build will lead,” Ty said.

Once burned, a bridge leads nowhere. Even in emotionally charged situations, like getting edged out for a position by another candidate, maintain a sense of dignity and professionalism. If someone is impressed with how you conducted yourself in the face of failure, they are more likely to consider you for the next opportunity.

9. Set up informational interviews. 

Informational interviews—or “coffee chats,” as they are sometimes called—are an ideal way to get to know a new connection and gain valuable career insights. After asking someone to meet, Amine recommends that you research the industry, company and person to make conversation as fruitful as possible. 

“Keep the questions geared toward them and their career journey but never ask for a job,” Amine said. 

While an informational interview may lead to an introduction or an interview, it is best to focus on learning from the other person rather than making an ask. 

10. Take advantage of the Baylor Career Center. 

Amine and his colleagues at the Baylor Career Center emphasize to students that building relationships is 80 percent of a job search. By providing abundant opportunities to network, including extensive coaching and counseling, career fairs, information sessions, guest speakers and career treks, they provide students with an advantage in the job market. 

Recently, the MBA career team and a group of MBA students returned from a week-long trip to New York City, where they networked with alumni across industries. 

“Some students have already been offered positions,” Amine said. “That is a testament to the power of networking.” 

What’s Next

Are you ready to gain a skill set that will take your career to the next level? Click here to learn more about Baylor’s Online MBA program or fill out the form below to speak directly to an Enrollment Coordinator.