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Accounting students can use a variety of options for professional networking, both online and in person. Especially for those with little to no experience, networking helps provide a crucial opening to get a foot in the door. Although you don't need to meet in person to form enduring professional relationships, you should always take a personalized approach. Nobody wants to feel like a box to be ticked off on a checklist. Job hunting represents only one aspect of successful professional networking; much of networking remains centered on sharing knowledge and resources that offer mutual benefits. Remember the importance of reciprocity. People remember others who helped them, which in turn influences their inclination to reciprocate.
Networking to land a job in accounting is one thing; recognizing the importance of longevity in professional relationships is another. Even if you manage to land a job directly, many benefits accrue when you maintain the connections over time. Since success in accounting often requires teamwork, it behooves you to cultivate your professional network mindfully and effectively with an eye toward the future.
HOW DO YOU NETWORK TO GET A JOB IN ACCOUNTING?
Different Types of Professional Networks in Accounting
There's more to networking for accounting career opportunities than completing job applications and distributing business cards. Consider three distinct types of networking: operational, personal, and strategic. Operational networking focuses on matters internal to an individual or company, such as efficient management of current responsibilities. Operational networking encompasses straightforward meeting of objectives. However, excessive focus on internal matters crowds out more strategic questions. Personal networking centers on enhancement of personal and professional development opportunities. While it may seem less relevant to immediate concerns, personal networking provides access to important resources such as mentoring and coaching. Strategic networking emphasizes positioning your efforts appropriately with key contacts, thereby shaping your future in accounting. As an aspiring accounting professional, you can benefit from improving strategic networking skills to position yourself as an attractive candidate for hiring and promotion.
Networking Events in Accounting
Networking events play a vital role in career and personal development for accounting professionals. Typical offerings include seminars, job fairs, mentoring fairs, open roundtable forums, lectures featuring experts to field questions, leadership summits, and social mixer events. While many larger events occur at convention centers or rented lecture halls, university student centers or meeting rooms also serve as suitable locations. Exchanging business cards represents only one aspect of networking; equally important activities at networking events for aspiring accounting professionals include introducing new acquaintances to business contacts and asking well-informed questions. Networking opportunities need not be limited to formal events. Accounting students can often develop their professional networks just as effectively through volunteer work and community service events, such as providing free tax services for elderly and low-income people.
Elevator Pitches in Accounting
An elevator pitch should contain a concise, clear message about you, what you do, your career goals, and how you might bring value to an employer. For your elevator pitch, prepare a short speech of about 80-90 words that you can memorize and keep handy for brief interactions, such as job fairs or an impromptu chat during an elevator ride. Aspiring professionals in accounting should include a hook to inspire questions, and something unique that provides a way to stand out from the competition, but avoid sounding like a sales pitch. An elevator pitch should last no longer than 30 seconds.
Social Networking Sites for Accounting Professionals
While LinkedIn remains ever useful for accounting professionals, take time to explore other worthwhile options for online networking and job searches. A few examples include AngelList for startup jobs, E.Factor for entrepreneurs, and Plaxo, which is an enhanced address book tool. You can join most professional networking sites for free, although some charge fees or offer premium options with paid memberships. Online social networking allows contacts to respond at their convenience, although the message may get buried under a long list of other notifications.
TIPS FOR NETWORKING IN ACCOUNTING
Keep in mind that networking involves learned skills. Even if you flounder or feel flustered at first, noticeable improvement comes with time and experience. As you continue to gain experience in professional networking situations, you will acquire a better sense of the do's and don'ts of making mutually beneficial connections.
- Quality Over Quantity: To avoid becoming overwhelmed, focus on making fewer connections of a higher caliber rather than handing out a numerical quota of business cards. Building relationships with a limited number of key accounting contacts over time can pay off in better leads and future opportunities.
- Practice Good Listening Skills: You might start by adding people to your LinkedIn profile or contacts list, but strengthening connections requires listening. Good networking means increasing the chances they remember you in a positive light. Active, attentive listening helps people feel heard and provides practice for future accounting clients.
- Prepare Questions in Advance: When you attend accounting networking events, research speakers and attendees beforehand. Few people can resist an inquiry that invites them to speak on topics in which they specialize. Accounting professionals must know how to formulate targeted, well-researched questions in business and networking contexts.
- Provide Value: Consider researching a special or unusual accounting topic that interests you. Rather than focusing on selling yourself or finding a job, bring interesting information about your interest area to share with others. Focus on what differentiates you from the crowd.
- Ease Your Way In: Keep it friendly and low pressure. Pressing for strong commitments of interest or launching into sales pitches after a few short exchanges can backfire in networking and business alike. Accounting professionals rely on trust. If you detect no indications of reciprocation from the other party, consider moving on.
Networking Event "Do's" for Accountants
- Set Goals: What outcomes do you hope to achieve? If you get distracted, reminding yourself of your goals for each networking event can keep you on track. Ambitious accounting professionals benefit from setting clear, achievable goals for career success, and networking offers opportunities to practice goal-setting.
- Dress Appropriately: Professional dress inspires trust, and the accounting profession depends on trust. Dressing appropriately also conveys confidence, approachability, and positivity. Be sure to choose properly fitting clothing, especially for networking events where first impressions count. A polished appearance frees up your attention to focus on the interaction, rather than the state of your attire.
- Bring Business Cards: Remind yourself to bring business cards, even if it sounds obvious, and make sure you bring enough business cards to avoid running out. Proper preparation ranks high on the list of important skills for accounting professionals to cultivate.
- Be Concise: Accounting professionals meet many people at networking events. Being succinct shows consideration and proper respect for others' time. Excessive or florid language can bore your listener, and your message may get lost at the cost of a potential connection.
- Follow Up on Connections: Cultivate the uncommon but essential skill of making time to follow up with a prospect, and do so within 72 hours. After a few days, details of the interaction can quickly fade. Without a proper effort to follow up and build the connection, the other party may assume you no longer plan to stay in touch.
Networking Event "Don'ts" for Accountants
- Distribute Paper Copies of Your Resume: Accounting professionals know the importance of staying up to date. They also know that what's left out is just as important as what's included. Save the paper copies of resumes for hiring fairs and job interviews, not networking events. If you obtain a job lead, you can follow up later with a resume.
- Use a Shotgun Approach: Relationships with key contacts are built mutually through establishing trust over a period of time. A shotgun approach risks damaging something especially important in accounting: credibility. Instead, focus on planting a seed to improve the chances that your contact may later consider you a trustworthy and valuable resource.
- Interrupt or Talk Over Others: Patience and attentive listening rank high on the list of critical skills for accounting professionals. If you interrupt or talk over others, you may miss important information. Interrupting also implies disrespect, suggesting that you hold a stronger interest in your own words than in learning more about your contacts.
- Be Intimidated: Nervousness happens, especially when you meet an influential accounting professional. However, everyone you encounter at professional networking events is a human being, just like you. Accomplished professionals wield considerable power and influence, but putting people on a pedestal out of intimidation serves no one well.
- Neglect to Follow Up on Connections: Sending a thank-you note may seem like just another task to add to your already lengthy to-do list, but follow through remains an important skills for accounting professionals. Follow through can tip the scales in your favor when a job opens.
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