Posted by Robert Half Finance & Accounting on Monday, September 21, 2015 - 08:00 | Follow me
This is the third in a series of blog posts with networking tips for finance and accounting professionals.
If you're a born extrovert, professional networking probably isn't a problem for you. But if you're like the rest of us, you'd just as soon get a root canal as schmooze with a room full of strangers at a professional conference or meeting.
So what’s the point of networking? It’s this simple: Getting ahead is often about relationships (and, of course, skill in your craft). Meeting the right mentor or colleague at the right time and establishing a rapport with that individual can open doors to new ideas, tip you off to a training opportunity or inform you of a job prospect. You might even meet your future boss while networking.
So on to the meat of the matter: networking tips. Here's how to take the pain out of networking and put it in your comfort zone.
1. Be thoughtful in your approach.
The best way to begin networking is with baby steps and grace, one foot in front of the other. You don’t want a colleague, mentor or friend to feel that you’re using them to find your next job. That would be akin to “transactional networking,” as noted in the Harvard Business Review.
Bottom line: If it feels forced, it doesn’t feel good for either party. Instead, keep the interaction measured and tactful. Yes, you’re doing reconnaissance about a finance or accounting opportunity, but let it be casual over lunch, drinks, or simply a conversation with a new person who may know things you don’t.
2. Do some homework.
If you’re meeting someone for the first time, use digital and social media beforehand — Google News, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and so on — to learn everything you can about them. Go “old school” and ask around your firm: What is this individual like? Do you know anything about their hobbies?
3. Find common ground.
If you’ve recently met someone at a professional conference or a social event, watch for physical cues or verbal statements to learn something about them to help you establish rapport, such as clothes, food, drink, accent — anything that can serve as a common point and an ice breaker to help the two of you bond. Practice positive eye contact and use your active listening skills.
If you don’t have the opportunity to meet someone face-to-face and only have the benefit of seeing an online profile, a simple, “So, you went to Babson; I got my MBA there,” can work wonders. Your attempt at an icebreaker will be welcomed for its sincerity: “My cousin/boyfriend/best friend went there and loved it.” No school or work connections, even remote ones? Look for sports, clubs, professional associations, even athletic race results. “I noticed that you’re a triathlete; I just finished my first half Ironman.” Personal references go a long way toward establishing a friendly tone.
4. Keep in touch.
Once you’ve established a connection, use tried-and-true methods to sustain the relationship. The basic rules are this: Exchange contact information and send an email after the event (or if you feel it’s appropriate, pick up the phone) to express your appreciation for the conversation and that you would like to keep in touch.
If you feel this person might be a good fit as a mentor, tell him or her that you would like to keep in touch and perhaps meet for coffee one day soon. Remember to keep it light and friendly. For the senior financial professional, there are some other best practices to keep these associations alive.
So have your business cards handy, but for the best outcomes — and to increase your enjoyment of the process— shift your focus to building and sustaining relationships, rather than constructing a network of contacts. You’ll realize far better results.
Recruiters can be part of your networking, too. If a specialized staffing agent reaches out to you, take some time to listen, then ask about the best ways to keep in touch.
Meanwhile, keep networking, and read our whole series here: