Your professional connections have no doubt played an important role over the years in helping you advance your career in finance. And no matter how high you climb the corporate ladder, it’s essential for executive networking to remain a top priority, because you never know when you might need professional advice.
In fact, not asking for help is a mistake many executives make, according to a recent Robert Half Management Resources survey. Nearly a third (30 percent) of CFOs interviewed cited it as the top executive networking blunder. Another 23 percent of respondents said not keeping in touch with professional contacts or reaching out to them only when they need something is the greatest networking mistake executives make.
Tim Hird, executive director of Robert Half Management Resources, offers the following insight to finance executives: “Business is changing so rapidly, no one has all the answers or expects others to. Executives need a robust network, including mentors, peers, staff-level contacts, and experts from within and outside the company, to stay on top of trends, best practices and opportunities. To accomplish this, make sure you serve as a resource for your connections, too.”
The following dos and don’ts of executive networking can help ensure you maintain a strong professional network that you not only benefit from but also give back to:
DO be a proactive communicator
Your professional network is like a living thing: to survive and thrive it must be nurtured diligently. The fact is, if you aren’t diligent about maintaining your connections, you may lose them. Also, if you only contact people when you need something, you risk being viewed as a nuisance — and a bit self-absorbed. Your contacts will easily (and understandably) grow weary of out-of-the-blue and urgent requests for assistance and thus, will be less inclined to assist you.
Keep the lines of communication open with your valued contacts by checking in every few weeks or months with a quick email or phone call just to touch base and share any relevant news. Pay close attention to your social media networks and notifications, too. For example, when one of your contacts is celebrating a work anniversary, or announcing a promotion or a new job, be among the first to extend congratulations.
DON’T hesitate to help your contacts
Executive networking involves both giving and taking. However, our company’s recent survey of CFOs suggests finance executives may not always be giving back to the people in their professional network as much they should. “Not helping others” was among the top five executive networking mistakes cited by respondents.
Embrace your role as a resource for valued contacts and be ready to help open doors, make connections and answer questions. And don’t just sit back and wait for someone to request guidance. When you see opportunities to offer advice and insight, reach out and let a contact know you’d be happy to talk or meet up if that person is interested and has the time.
DO keep growing your network
Your professional network should include diverse contacts at all levels of your profession, including peers and direct reports. Look for mentors and influencers within and outside of the financial field as well. Other strategies for expanding your network include joining and attending the networking events of professional organizations participating in relevant groups on sites like LinkedIn.
Finding ways to give back can also help you establish new contacts while doing good for others. Becoming a mentor, for example, is a way to help other professionals develop their leadership skills — and to share your passion for and knowledge about the finance profession. Volunteering opportunities can also help you make new contacts in your local community.
DON’T ever fail to say thank you
Not thanking professional contacts when they provide help also made the top-five list of executive networking pitfalls in our survey. And really, it is an egregious mistake. There’s just no good excuse for not expressing your gratitude when another person helps you.
So, when members of your network step up to assist you, whether it's to offer advice or introduce you to a new connection, be sure to thank them promptly, either through a phone call, an email or a personalized note. If a contact does something especially significant — such as help you land a new position or refer you to a great new hire — show your gratitude by taking that person to lunch or sending a small gift, if appropriate.
These simple but meaningful gestures will help you build long-lasting professional connections and ensure your contacts will be glad to assist you again in the future. Even more important, they’ll help you earn a reputation for being a business leader with integrity.
Don’t stop your reading here: Get more executive networking tips in our blog post, Powerful Connections: For an Executive Job Search, Networking Is a Must.