How to network like a pro in an online MBA program

businesswoman at desk

Even in an age when it's easier than ever to connect online, old-fashioned networking is still the most effective way to land a job. Research from Jobvite, a recruiting platform that helps companies target potential employees, shows that 64 percent of recruiters believe that the highest-quality job candidates come from personal referrals. Approximately 40 percent of workers found their "favorite or best" job through personal connections as well. Networking opportunities abound for students enrolled in MBA programs at brick-and-mortar campuses. For online students, finding opportunities to connect with faculty, classmates and future employers can be tricky — but not impossible. If you're pondering enrolling in an online MBA program, following these strategies from the beginning can help you make the most of it. Here are three ways online MBA students can become networking ninjas.

1. Become a teacher's pet

One of the easiest ways that students can network with future employers is to make connections with their teachers and faculty, says Balaji Krishnan, director of MBA Programs at the University of Memphis in Tennessee. Institutions are often approached by employers who are looking to hire recent graduates with the help of the MBA department.

"Since we know what the students' background is and how well they've done in specific courses that might be most critical to the particular job function, we are able to tell [employers] the top-end students who might best fit the profile," Krishnan says.

Online MBA students can also meet future employers by taking advantage of mentoring and alumni connection programs offered through the school, Krishnan adds. The University of Memphis, for example, connects incoming students with current MBA candidates or recent graduates who can help guide them through the program. Other institutions offer in-person events through alumni chapters across the country and online databases where e-students can connect with graduates in their field.

2. Clue in on collaborations

Online MBA programs that emphasize opportunities to collaborate with other enrollees provide students with the ability to network with each other in a less formal context, says Cynthia Gallatin, associate vice president and chief operating officer of Quinnipiac University Online. That gives students the chance to see how their classmates work, where their strengths lie and how their previous work experiences can be applied to the assignment.

"One of the things that's very powerful in the online class is you're not just sitting with people who are in a regionally convenient area," Gallatin says. "You're connecting with professionals who are working in different areas and in different jobs."

Online MBA candidates can also do some research on the student body before choosing an institution.

"The questions they need to ask are things like, 'In what industries do some of the other students work? What industries contact Quinnipiac to promote open positions? Who hires your graduates?'" Gallatin says.

While some schools cater to MBA candidates that are fresh out of undergrad, other schools focus on nabbing mid-career workers who are advancing up the corporate ladder, breaking out on their own or changing careers. Curricula vary widely within online MBA programs, with some institutions providing more generalized programs and others offering specialized concentrations. Since who you attend school with can greatly affect your job prospects after graduation, selecting an institution that caters to students with similar goals can make a big impact.

3. Meet up

Face time still goes a long way in the networking game, so it pays to stop by campus once in a while if you can, according to Kambiz Raffiee, director of the online executive MBA Program at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"We have an MBA mixer where we invite all the students of the program: former, current and new students," Raffiee said. "It's making sure that students get the opportunity to meet each other in person and meet the faculty and administration."

Most online MBA students can't complete full courses on campus, but if you can swing a shortened or low-residency course or two, it could help make lasting connections, says Balaji Krishnan of the University of Memphis.

"[Our online students] can complete one course each semester in a shortened format when they come to campus," Krishnan says. "… For us, it is about establishing relationships with these students. We get to see them at least once if they do take this opportunity to be on campus."

On top of hybrid and low-residency courses, online students can also make face-to-face connections by coming to on-campus career fairs, visiting the school's career services department or taking a study abroad course.

Before enrolling in an online MBA program, Krishnan recommends that future candidates reach out to current students at their school of choice to research how well connected the faculty is and what types of networking opportunities the school offers.

"If networking is critical to you, talk to people who are already in the program," he says. "They are the best people who can tell you if [opportunities] exist or not."


Cynthia Gallatin, Associate Vice President and COO of Quinnipiac University Online, Interviewed by the author on Oct 7, 2014

"2014 Global Management Education Graduate Survey Report," Graduate Management Admission Council,

"2014 Jobvite Job Seeker Nation Study,",

Dr. Balaji Krishnan, Ph.D., Director of MBA Programs at the University of Memphis, Interviewed by the author on Oct 9, 2014

Dr. Kambiz Raffiee, Ph.D., Director of MBA Programs for the University of Nevada, Reno, Interviewed by the author on Oct. 9, 2014