Sherrie Negrea

Business schools are encouraging MBA students to start early and be active on LinkedIn

Josh Porter knew the power of networking on LinkedIn even before he enrolled at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.

Just before starting classes that fall, Porter used LinkedIn to contact an ASU alumnus featured on a business school brochure who was working in the M.B.A. Leadership Development Program at Bank of America. That connection led to an introduction with another alumnus at Bank of America who ended up hiring Porter for an internship. By the end of the summer, Porter was offered a full-time job.

"Being able to connect with alumni through LinkedIn really helped start the process to get this job offer," said Porter, who will start working in Bank of America's M.B.A. Leadership Development Program.

As LinkedIn has transformed the job search process, business schools across the country are encouraging students to become active users on the social networking site right from the start of their M.B.A. programs. Business schools have also incorporated strategies for using LinkedIn into workshops and courses on leadership and organizational behavior.

"There's just no question that networking is the number one tool for anyone today to continue to develop their careers," said Gary Bergmann, assistant director and senior consultant for M.B.A. and alumni career services at Boston University's School of Management. "LinkedIn is just absolutely the number one resource to allow them to do that."

Many business school career counselors advise M.B.A. students to use LinkedIn to find professionals working in the industries they want to target. The best way to make those connections is first to search for alumni working at those companies. Students may also find professionals to connect with on LinkedIn at business school recruiting and networking events.

"We don't encourage cold connections as a primary way of connecting on LinkedIn," says Chris Dito, senior director of career development at the University of California -- Davis Graduate School of Management . "We believe in the power of meeting people, knowing them, and being able to vouch for them. Otherwise it becomes a meaningless list of names."

Once the student has made a connection, career counselors suggest that an informational interview be arranged with the professional, either in person or by telephone. The purpose of an informational interview is to gather information and get referrals, not to ask for a job, Boston University's Bergmann says. He uses the acronym AIR (advice, information, and referrals) to help students remember the goal of an informational interview.

Business schools are also tapping LinkedIn to locate companies that have job openings. After connecting with company representatives on the site, career counselors can then notify students looking for jobs, says Barry Miller, manager of Alumni Career Programs and Services for Pace University's Lubin School of Business in New York.

Besides connecting with professionals at targeted companies, students should also join alumni or professional groups on LinkedIn as potential sources for networking. Once they become active in discussion groups, they should look for professionals with whom they can build relationships, says Tony Petrucci, an assistant professor of human resource management at Temple University's Fox School of Business and Management .

Though LinkedIn is the social media platform of choice at business schools, career counselors also believe that Twitter is a tool that students will find useful. Students should follow companies they're interested in on Twitter to learn about new developments and job openings, says Inger Maher, associate director of career development at the University of California -- Davis Graduate School of Management.

"Any company that's worth its salt is going to be promoting itself on Twitter," says Maher. She advises students to gather information about a company from its Twitter feed and then leverage those bits of news in their interviews.

Though it is not as popular with recruiters as LinkedIn, Facebook is also a platform that can help students network with professionals. A study published in 2011 by the Education Advisory Board showed that 86.6 percent of human resource and recruiting specialists used LinkedIn, compared to 55.3 percent on Facebook, and 46.6 percent on Twitter.

When using Facebook for career networking, students need to be cautious about what they post on their pages, says Jeannine Berge, career coach at the University of Nebraska -- Lincoln College of Business Administration . Yet regardless of which platform they choose, the strategy does not change, Berge adds.

"It's still the same thing, with people finding someone that they know and connecting in that way," Berge says. "If they start off with the personal connections, sometimes it's not as intimidating as trying to connect with someone they may not know."

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