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From left, Oxford graduating classmates Vincenzo Meschi from Chile, Alanna Petroff from Canada, Ricardo Celaya from Mexico and Manuel Fuertes from Spain.Courtesy Alanna Petroff

During the MBA application process, prospective students will encounter marketing material in which business schools tout the power and breadth of their networks.

Business schools often boast about their strong connections with alumni, hinting that they are useful for networking and business opportunities. Aside from alumni connections, websites and brochures highlight how the deep bonds and lifelong friendships that are formed among classmates often lead to new enterprises and business contacts.

The Harvard Business School explains on its website that it offers MBA students a "Network of Success." The website reads: "When you graduate with an MBA from Harvard Business School, you earn a place within a community of nearly 70,000 business leaders in 150 countries. More than 40,000 of our alumni have made themselves available to help current students build connections and uncover business opportunities throughout their careers."

Meanwhile, the website for the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto says, "Thanks to its reputation and extensive connections to the business community, the Rotman School will give you an edge in your search for a fulfilling career."

For young prospective students, these promises of connections and networks seem exciting – but at the same time, they can sound vague and abstract. What do they really mean?

When I was applying to business schools, I generally glanced over the material that discussed business networks, but focused more intently on MBA rankings, classroom content, international opportunities and reputation. The idea of a business network seemed a bit fuzzy to me. How would this "network" really help me, especially if I was not planning to pursue a career in finance or consulting?

Now that I have completed my MBA at Oxford University, the concept of a business network is coming more cleanly into focus. I can now clearly see how this network is helping me move forward in my job hunt, my career and even my social life.

When I moved to England a year ago from Canada, I knew less than a dozen people in the United Kingdom. Now, a year onwards, I have MBA friends scattered all across the country, with over 50 close friends living in London, and many more who have moved abroad to pursue their careers. It's thrilling to think that I could visit nearly anywhere in the world – Tokyo, Dubai, Zurich, Seattle – and I would have an MBA friend ready to meet me and tour me around their city.

Having just moved to London one month ago, my MBA friends are becoming powerful business connections.

For example, after attending an Oxford conference, my friend put me in touch with an Oxford alumnus who was working in my field. A simple e-mail from my friend eventually led to a coffee meeting and then a job interview.

Meanwhile, another MBA friend heard about a suitable job posting for me through a headhunter friend back in New York. Within hours of sending along my CV, I was on the phone discussing salary expectations with her contact.

Another MBA colleague recently organized a fly-fishing event and put me in touch with an attendee who is highly involved in the Oxford Business Alumni network. After a quick e-mail exchange, he invited me out to lunch with another friend. This individual turned out to be one of the most influential media men in all of England.

I have also done my fair share of paying this goodwill forward by connecting classmates with interesting people and opportunities.

While stuck on the middle seat of a plane flying between Washington, D.C. and London, I was speaking with my seatmate, who told me about his work with specialized IT systems. Coincidentally, this is exactly the field my colleague was looking to enter. I said: "Are you hiring? I know someone who is perfect for you! She has just finished her MBA and she is an IT pro. Let me give you my card so I can connect the two of you." Within a week of the flight, they were exchanging e-mails.

Even at barbeques and parties, my MBA colleagues remain front and centre in my mind. This is how many of my conversations progress…

"You work in medical research in London? I have a friend…"

"You work in banking in Zurich? Let me put you in touch with…"

"You work in energy trading? I have a contact that you might want to meet…"

It has become a favourite pastime of mine to connect my friends with new people. It's exciting to see relationships form and opportunities crystallize.

Meanwhile, other classmates have come together to form business partnerships. Four of my classmates, who just met this year, are launching mDiagnostica, a company that will use mobile technology to connect rural Indian health workers with doctors for remote diagnosis. They are also using connections through the business school for mentoring and fundraising advice.

Business school professors are well-connected people who bring in eminent guest speakers. I know many friends who have secured job interviews and internships after meeting these guests at the end of their lectures.

When I first paid my tuition, I focused more on the exciting opportunity ahead and my upcoming classes. I had no idea just how powerful my business network would become. Now I can clearly see the power and significance of this new network and how it is illuminating my path forward.

Networking tips

  • Be friendly to everyone, because they will likely have important connections that you will not know about.
  • Keep extra business cards in your purse/wallet at all times.
  • Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to eminent people in your field. A simple introduction can lead to a multitude of new opportunities.
  • Join LinkedIn and create a professional profile for yourself.
  • Clean-up your Facebook page to present a more professional image.
  • Attend networking events and make a point to speak to people you don’t know.
  • Be on the lookout for opportunities for your friends and colleagues. It’s good for business karma.
  • Don’t be stingy with your friendships. Be open-minded and willing to meet new people for coffees and lunches.

Alanna Petroff just recently completed her MBA at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford in Britain. She is currently living in London, England.