John Gurskey: "Very often, the candidate found through informal channels is the best."
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How do these networks operate?

The revelation for most of us is that the hidden jobs market accounts for nearly 80 per cent of total vacancies, according to Adzuna, a search engine which trawls websites and delivers job postings on one site (

In many cases, a position becomes available but by the time it is advertised, the hiring manager has already asked his or her network whether they know of anyone who is a good fit. This means that before the formal recruitment process has started, it has already opened within informal circles.

Very often, the candidate found through informal channels is the best. This is because the referrer, who does not want to tarnish his or her reputation, is going out on a limb to recommend the right person. The referrer also understands the company’s culture and will know if a person will fit in and perform well. Referrals tend to be less expensive because there is less turnover and does not involve spending money on advertising jobs.

What does an MBA graduate need to do to get into a network?

First, figure out who you are and what type of company and jobs you want to target — you must understand the value that you can bring to a potential employer and be able to communicate that. When you are networking, you are building a level of trust and you have to be confident and knowledgeable.

At Melbourne Business School in Australia, students create their network through our alumni and corporate contacts as well as online, with the guidance of our careers team. Networks can range from alumni in similar roles and industries at all levels in the organisation, professors, fellow students and contacts from old schools and employers. They can also include professional development bodies. New contacts can be generated by looking at company websites and LinkedIn to investigate key people to target.

Once you have done this, you have got to go out and talk to people by arranging informal interviews. You are not asking for a job. You are building rapport and hopefully a relationship in which you build trust and the willingness to be recommended to other people in your target industry. You can ask them about their general market knowledge, their career, how they started in the industry/role and where your potential shortfalls are in terms of your skillset. Identifying gaps in your abilities and then devising a strategy to overcome them is important.

What can MBA graduates do to prepare themselves?

At Melbourne, MBA students and graduates practise building rapport and asking the right questions to help build their network. They talk to alumni volunteers and receive feedback.

We provide an appropriate list of questions and might start them out with an alumnus who has only been in the position for a couple of years, who can identify with what it was like to be a new graduate in a new role.

Questions would include:

  • How the alumnus found their current role, including any research they carried out on the company before applying
  • How they demonstrated to the interviewer their knowledge of the organisation and why they would be the best applicant for the role
  • How they transitioned into work after a year of full-time study and how they were able to fit into the organisational culture

Next, we might send students to meet someone who has been in the role five to seven years, someone who has more seniority and influence and a better handle on the political situation in the company.

In the final stage, students might meet someone who has been in the company for seven to 10 years. The advantage is that they have already had two previous rounds of networking opportunities and they can ask more meaningful questions.

Questions in this stage could be about the organisation’s strategy, the challenges in the operating environment and how the student can help discover whether there is a role for him/her to address some of those issues.

Also, that third person is someone who usually has the authority to hire and fire so that is where they can really make a strong impression and hopefully get some high-level referrals.

Any tips on how students can create their own network?

Students need to demonstrate, especially if changing careers, that they have transferable skills that immediately add value. It is crucial to draw examples from their MBA, work experience and volunteer experience to demonstrate knowledge and passion about the role and industry. Finally, they must be willing to learn quickly.

John Gurskey, director of the career management centre at Melbourne Business School, Australia.

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