By Kathleen Downs

You’ve probably heard the old saying: “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” In the field of finance and accounting, your technical skills will undoubtedly help you get hired and climb the corporate ladder. But knowing how to network and expand your professional circles can put you a step ahead of the competition — and open doors for your accounting career.

Networking is relationship building. For job seekers, it can be as valuable as the contents of your resume. For working professionals, it can be the key to career advancement, conflict resolution and a positive work environment — or lead to valuable word-of-mouth advertising.

I find that networking enriches my life in many ways, allowing me to meet people, acquire new clients and connect with influencers. It also offers opportunities to help others, which gives me great satisfaction.

One of my professional networking opportunities is with the National Association of Black Accountants. In my role with the NABA Greater Orlando Leadership Team, I have conversations with many of my clients about an organization within our profession that is doing great work. I also can meet new people through my efforts to find corporate partnerships for our conventions, and show others how I give back in a meaningful way.

If you and I were having a conversation, and you asked me how to network, I would give you these specific tips, whether you’re happily employed or actively searching for a job:

1. Discover how to network in the workplace

Many people overlook the value of networking in their own accounting offices. But coworkers come and go, and you never know where they’ll end up. They could put in a good word for you when you need it, introduce you to others you can connect with, let you know about opportunities elsewhere — or someday move up to become the CFO at your company or your own strategic partner.

Even if you consider yourself an introvert or a non-networker, you can make an effort to connect professionally with your team or others in your firm. You can meet for coffee or organize a monthly lunch or happy hour. Put out the welcome mat, look for common ground, collaborate on projects, share ideas and contacts. If you leave the company — or they do — keep in touch, knowing that current and former colleagues can play important roles in your future career success.

2. Work with a specialized recruiter

Staffing agencies offer an array of services when you’re looking for a new position. They can be your “eyes and ears” to the job market, with abundant ideas about how to network with professionals in your area.

If a specialized staffing professional reaches out to you, take time to listen, then ask about the best ways to keep in touch. Even if you’re not looking for a job right now, there’s no predicting what will happen in a few years.

Find out more about how you can work with Robert Half's recruiters to find a position matched to your unique skill set and requirements.

3. Find ways to do networking online

Social media platforms, such as Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and LinkedIn, offer myriad ways to interact online with colleagues, former classmates and professionals. They allow you to share insights and knowledge, meet new people and follow influencers. If you're looking for a job, be sure to enhance your social media profile.

Think about how you brand yourself to showcase your strengths online. Join groups on some social media platforms and find online discussions. Looking for new methods for tackling financial challenges? Interested in learning how to approach big data? The possible topics for conversation are endless.

4. Mingle at networking events

Networking at outside events can be very beneficial. It brings you together with people you’d never meet otherwise. I suggest attending talks and lectures on subjects that pique your interest. Then hang out afterward to shake hands and make connections with speakers and participants. If you’ve done your homework, you should have at least a partial list of attendees that you want to find in the crowd.

Make sure you trade business cards so you can follow up with an email afterward and connect on LinkedIn. Many organizations use networking events as an opportunity to scout for talent, so that’s another reason to have your business cards handy.

5. Join professional organizations

Trade associations that serve financial and accounting professionals give you a chance to get together with industry colleagues outside the office. They can promote professional development in many ways, helping you step into leadership roles and learn new tricks of the trade. Membership also demonstrates your career dedication to your employer.

Here are several of Robert Half’s strategic alliances dedicated to finance and accounting professionals:

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)

AICPA has been an advocate for certified public accountants (CPAs) for more than a century. Its various conferences, volunteer activities and task forces allow you to expand your networking. You’ll also have access to continuing professional education opportunities offered to members, which focus on the latest issues CPAs face.

  • American Payroll Association (APA)

APA offers members a wide range of benefits, including free e-books, webinars and career resources. In addition to its local chapters, the organization hosts national events. APA’s annual Congress lets members rub elbows with fellow payroll professionals.

  • Accounting & Financial Women's Alliance (AFWA)

AFWA gives you opportunities to hone essential leadership skills and network with other female finance professionals. The group hosts several regional conferences a year, as well as an annual national conference. In addition, members have the chance to acquire CPE credits, backed by a scholarship program for degrees and certifications like the CPA, Certified Management Accounting (CMA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA).

  • National Association of Black Accountants (NABA)

NABA is a network that has professional and student chapters and offers community outreach, student development and networking. There are 7,000 members nationally and local chapters throughout the United States.

  • Financial Executives International (FEI)

The mission of FEI is to advance the success of senior-level financial executives, their organizations and the profession. For more than 80 years, FEI has connected senior corporate executives, now with more than 11,500 members globally.

  • The Institute of Internal Auditors (The IIA)

Established in 1941, the IIA is the internal audit profession's global voice, recognized authority, acknowledged leader, chief advocate and principal educator. It serves more than 185,000 members from more than 165 countries as the profession’s watchdog and resource on significant auditing issues around the globe.

Knowing how to network and to take your introductions to the next level can help your career today and in the future. I wish you the best!

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Kathleen Downs, a vice president with Robert Half Finance & Accounting, started with the company in 2000. Before that, she was CEO of a recreation/retail/education organization in Bonn, Germany. Kathleen is actively involved with a number of professional organizations within the finance and accounting field and sits on several not-for-profit boards.