We Need a Blue Ocean Strategy for Networking!

Recently a couple of MBA students from my alma mater reached out to me for networking, which reminded me that it was the job searching season for MBA students again. Although alumni networking is important, I’d like to share some of my personal experience to provide a different perspective.

When I firstly started my MBA, like most people, I participated in a variety of networking events to try to build relationship with our alumni. I also reached out to alumni through emails and one-on-ones. However, a lot of times I found my classmates and I were reaching out to the same group of alumni, and we were all tried to impress them. Six months later, all my efforts seemed in vain, so I decided to take a risk. I started to use emails and LinkedIn to reach out to people whom I had no connections with – they were neither alumni nor people from my home country or culture. I firstly used databases in our library to identify middle/top level managers in the companies I was interested in. Then, I used emails or LinkedIn to reach out to them to ask for informational interviews. To my surprise, some of these directors or VPs did respond to me. Some would just schedule informational interviews with me directly. Others would refer me to managers under them. As these managers got my networking requests from their bosses, these managers wouldn’t say no to me, and they were all very friendly and helpful. This proactive approach helped me get my summer internship at Seagate. After I completed my internship, out of curiosity, I asked the Sr. Director who hired me why she was willing to give an informational interview to an Asian student whom she didn’t know at all. Her response was very thought-provoking – she said that not a lot of Americans dared to contact her for informational interviews after she became a Sr. Director, not to mention foreigners. Therefore, she was curious about what kind of person I was to have the courage to reach out to her. She felt it showed my proactive personality and that was the quality she was looking for in a candidate.

Of course, I believe that Duke’s brand helped me a lot to get these informational interviews. But I also believe my experience was not an exception, because a couple of my friends from Taiwan also got their internships/jobs using a similar approach. Especially after I became an alum, I started to realize why focusing on alumni networking might not be that easy – I usually get quite a few networking requests from current students during recruiting seasons. Although I am happy to share my experience with them, I find it difficult to decide which one is better than others simply from these once-off informational interviews. Therefore, I usually try to keep a neutral stand. In other words, networking with alumni is like competing in red ocean because all of our B-school classmates can find the same alumni lists. However, networking with non-alumni is different. It’s like a blue ocean strategy. Not all of the top managers are from top 10, top 20 universities and not all of them get a lot of requests for informational interviews. If we can be proactive, these top managers may very likely be impressed by our courage. Therefore, we should not limit ourselves – if we keep an open and positive attitude, we may be surprised by how many possibilities we can make.

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