In the age of digital transformation, pursuing an MBA online has become an increasingly popular choice for business professionals looking to elevate their careers. Online MBA programs offer flexibility, convenience, and a wealth of knowledge, making them an attractive option for those balancing work, life and education.
However, one aspect of the traditional MBA experience that shouldn’t be left behind is networking. In fact, networking in Online MBA programs is just as crucial, if not more so, than in-person interactions. So, how can students harness the power of digital connections to enhance their learning experience, foster career growth and unlock new opportunities in the business world?
Networking in Online MBA programs is not just an optional add-on; it’s a fundamental element of your educational journey. “The significance of networking for an Online MBA programs is absolutely as important as for an in-person program -- if not more so,” says Gavin Symonds, senior program manager for MBA programs at Imperial College Business School in London.
“We all rely so heavily on spontaneity and physical presence to drive unstructured networking, that the routes not so clear nor obvious for Online MBA students,” he adds. “However, we can see greater power and potential when the network of an MBA program is unlocked -- the diverse global reach of an Online MBA, coupled with convenience and accessibility can mean a far richer, more valuable network gained from an MBA.”
Diverse connections in a virtual setting
One of the key advantages of networking in an Online MBA program is the opportunity to connect with a diverse group of professionals from around the world. In a virtual classroom, you’re likely to encounter classmates with different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. This diversity can be a tremendous asset, as it exposes you to a wide range of ideas, cultures and industries that you might not encounter in a traditional classroom setting.
“Connecting online and arranging virtual meetings has the advantage of being able to reach a broader audience and is more efficient than meeting people in person,” agrees Adam Shpall, a graduate career consultant for the Robert H. Smith School of Business in the US. “While many would say that nothing replaces face to face in-person networking, connecting online has become significantly more commonplace and if done effectively, will have a lasting impact.”
Additionally, he points out that over the past several years, the degree of online networking opportunities has exploded, many lending themselves to the virtual environment. “Many programs which we used to offer in-person are now being conducted remotely,” Shpall says. “These virtual adaptations have the potential to reach a much larger audience of students, alumni and employers -- and they are also easier to orchestrate and more cost effective.”
One example of an event the Smith School now more regularly conducts online is mock interviews in which alumni from companies coach current Online MBA students, including those headquartered far away from the campus in Maryland, such as Amazon and Microsoft on the US west coast.
Anil Ram, a careers manager for part-time MBA programs at Warwick Business school in the UK, says there has been a monumental evolution in networking advice, guidance and support in recent years. “Previously, there was a widespread assumption that how to network was common knowledge. Today, candidates can access more training and workshops on how to network, online networking etiquette and how to optimize LinkedIn to achieve the best results.”
The Careers Service at Warwick provides bespoke guidance, which can be particularly valuable for early to mid-career students, like those on Online MBA programs.
The proactive approach to networking virtually
Ram further advises students to be proactive and curious, if they want to build and maintain a strong professional network while studying remotely. “It’s natural to focus on the tangible elements when starting an MBA, but make time to network and keep an open mind,” he explains. “It’s far too common to only speak to individuals who can help us. When doing so, we’re automatically excluding people who can share knowledge, experience and their own networks.”
Meg Lukus, the director of part-time and Online MBA programs at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, in the US, adds that online students need to make time for networking remotely, just as you would if you are in-person.
“Students have to make time to build this into their already very busy schedules,” she says. “Online students do have unique challenges in that students enter the program working full-time and are often balancing challenging careers, personal and family obligations, all while completing their MBA. Creating space for networking can be challenging, but it also creates long-term personal and professional benefits.”
Indeed, the Smith School’s Shpall says that networking as an Online MBA graduate has enumerable benefits for one’s career. “When you go through a rigorous MBA program, you build strong bonds with classmates who are all going through the same experience as you,” he concludes. “These classmates come to learn to trust you in terms of the quality of work you can deliver, and these connections can be maintained for a lifetime.”