Love it or loathe it, networking is crucial for accountants at all levels, whether you are searching for your next opportunity or looking to make a bigger mark with your current organisation. But do you know how to network like a pro? These are the five most common networking mistakes, according to a Robert Half Management Resources survey of CFOs in the United States:
Failing to connect with the right people. This mistake doesn’t mean that the ‘right’ people deserve to be in your network and the ‘wrong’ people do not. Rather, you need to know who to get in touch with for specific outcomes. For example, if you’re interested in joining a public accounting firm, your time is better spent establishing contact with those in the field rather than corporate finance professionals. Look through your contact list to see who among your network could lead you to your ultimate career goals.
Not asking for help. There’s no need to tough it out alone. If you have a healthy network in the accounting world, it makes sense to take full advantage of it when the need arises. Check your ego at the door and pick up the phone or send that email. Your contacts could help open doors that would otherwise remain closed.
Not helping others. Generosity in networking can help you establish a reputation as a respected accounting professional — someone who takes the time to give back. When others lend you a hand, it’s only natural you should do the same for them. But even if you don’t owe someone a favour, help people anyway. Think of good deeds as deposits in an account with a potentially high rate of return.
Failing to keep in touch or reaching out only when you need something. Networking is an ongoing process, and it needs your regular attention. Keep communication flowing with contacts so that when you do reach out, it’ll feel like a natural extension of your relationship. A simple email or coffee catch-up from time to time will keep your network alive.
Not thanking contacts when they provide assistance. Showing your gratitude in a timely manner is an essential part of networking. Send a thank-you email or handwritten note or jump on the phone for a quick phone call. Contacts are more likely to help again if they feel acknowledged and appreciated the first time around.
Networking tips for accountants
No matter where you are in your career, you likely could benefit from a networking refresher. Here are some more pointers:
Balance is key. Use a healthy mixture of in-person and online techniques. It’s quick and easy to stay in touch via email and social media, especially when your circle of contacts is large and global in scope. However, there’s nothing like face-to-face interactions for deepening relationships and expanding your network.
Maximise industry events. Attending professional conferences is a great way to meet other finance professionals. Mingle over drinks. Strike up conversations while waiting in line or browsing booths on the trade show floor. Resist the temptation to dine in your hotel room after a long day. Industry conferences are opportune chances to network over meals.
Blend business with social. Networking doesn’t have to be confined to the finance sector. Many connections are made in casual settings, such as neighbourhood BBQs or your kids’ sporting matches. You never know who you’re going to meet, so keep business cards handy and your elevator pitch fresh in case you come across your target audience.
Show your personality. While it’s important to behave professionally, don’t be overly formal and serious when networking. It’s perfectly okay to let others see your enthusiasm and sense of humour. People like recommending and working with people they like.
Use your smartphone wisely. There are plenty of apps for sharing contact info, jotting down notes, connecting via social media, and taking and sharing photos. But make sure to put your phone away when actually engaging in conversation. Nobody likes talking to people who aren’t giving them their full attention.
Follow up. What good is networking when new acquaintances never hear from you again? Consider sending a personalised email to a new contact shortly after the initial meeting. If they don’t seem interested in maintaining the connection, let it drop gracefully.
Strong connections are fundamental to your accounting career. Now is the time to step up networking efforts to build your professional network.