First Impressions Matter: Networking Tips for MBA Applicants


First Impressions Matter: Networking Tips for MBA Applicants

April 27 2024 By The MBA Exchange
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Embarking on the MBA admissions journey requires more than just a stellar application. One key aspect often overlooked is the power of effective networking. Engaging with influential figures such as current students, alumni, and potential recommenders can significantly sway the outcome of your application. This article combines expert advice to help you master the art of networking, making every interaction count and increasing your chances of acceptance into your desired MBA program.

Networking Tips for Future MBA Applicants

As future MBA applicants launch their admissions campaigns, understanding how to engage with influencers is crucial. These influencers include current students, administrators, local alumni, and potential recommenders. It’s essential to convey the personal attributes and behaviors that MBA programs value most in a candidate. Here are ten tips to help you make a strong first impression:

  1. Introduce Yourself with Confidence: A sincere smile, direct eye contact, and a firm handshake can set a positive tone right from the start. These simple gestures demonstrate confidence and professionalism.
  2. Break the Ice with Positivity: Make a friendly, positive observation about your surroundings to ease into the conversation. This can help both you and the other person feel more comfortable.
  3. Use Names Naturally: When you ask for the other person’s name, use it naturally throughout the conversation. This shows respect and helps build a personal connection.
  4. Inject Humor: Light humor, especially if it’s self-deprecating, can make you more relatable and memorable. It’s a way to show your personality without overshadowing the seriousness of your ambitions.
  5. Ask Sincere Questions: Show genuine interest by asking relevant questions and expressing appreciation for the answers. This demonstrates that you value the other person’s insights and experiences.
  6. Find Common Ground: Quickly identify mutual interests or experiences to establish a connection. Shared interests can make the conversation more engaging and memorable.
  7. Share About Yourself: Offer something about yourself that the other person might not think to ask. This can make the conversation more interesting and provide a fuller picture of who you are.
  8. Offer Value: Propose to follow up with useful information or an introduction that could benefit the other person. This shows that you’re not just thinking about what you can gain, but also what you can give.
  9. Respect Their Time: Be mindful of the other person’s time and priorities. End the conversation graciously with sincere thanks when it begins to slow down. This shows respect and consideration.
  10. Follow Up: Send a brief email the next day expressing appreciation for the conversation and suggesting ways to sustain the new connection. This reinforces the positive impression you made.

With practice, these tips will become second nature, and the maturity, professionalism, and authenticity of your MBA candidacy will shine through to everyone you meet throughout your admissions campaign.

Achieving Admissions Nirvana

Achieving admissions nirvana is like chasing a unicorn—a rare and powerful endorsement from a current student, professor, or alum directly to the admissions committee (adcom). This unsolicited recommendation can push your application from “maybe” to “definitely.” However, it’s a risky endeavor that must be approached with caution.

Unsolicited letters are not uncommon, but admissions committees can easily spot obligatory recommendations. To avoid this pitfall, ensure that any such letter is genuine and enthusiastic. A disingenuous letter can harm your application more than it helps.

Here’s how to approach this delicate process without getting burned:

  • Avoid Lazy Questions: When contacting current students or alumni, avoid asking questions that can be easily answered through a quick web search. Lazy questions waste the influencer’s time and can leave a negative impression.
  • Concrete Information: Approach potential unicorn-makers with specific and concrete information about yourself. Clearly articulate who you are, your career aspirations, why you need an MBA, and why you believe their school is the best fit for you. This well-prepared approach shows respect for their time and can lead to a more meaningful conversation.

A quick story from Seth Gilmore: “In a former life I was assigned to work with a senior manager and a programmer in order to create a database that was intended to help my company recover from having been on the losing end of a consequential Supreme Court case. For weeks on end I sat in a room every day listening to these two people argue over how the database, once built, should function. They were each brilliant in their own way, but they absolutely spoke different business languages and utterly failed to communicate with each other. It got ugly. Finally, after two months, I quietly met with the programmer alone and in the space of two hours we built the database from top to bottom, according to my interpretation of the manager’s requirements. When I showed it to the manager, she played with it for about an hour, asked for two small tweaks, then launched it the next morning. That database is still being used to this day.”

When you approach a potential influencer, say, “Here is who I am. Here’s what I want to do with my life. Here’s why I need an MBA. Here’s why I think your business school is the best place for me to get one. Do you agree that I would be a good fit based on what I’ve told you about myself and my aspirations, and your experience with this school?”

This approach, if well-executed, can lead to a significant conversation and potentially, the birth of a unicorn recommendation.


Networking is a critical component of a successful MBA admissions campaign. By making strong first impressions, engaging meaningfully with influencers, and strategically seeking impactful recommendations, you can enhance your candidacy and increase your chances of acceptance. Remember, authenticity, preparation, and respect for others’ time are key to building valuable connections. With these tips and a bit of practice, you’ll be well on your way to networking success and achieving your MBA goals. Good luck on your journey!