A room full of fresh faces doesn’t need to fill you with fear. With just a few top tips, you can be prepared to enter any event (real or virtual) with confidence.
Networking is the process of making and developing social and professional contacts. No matter how great an accountant you are (or are going to be), you can’t work in a bubble: you need referrals, recommendations and information from other people. Networking will help you to secure that, while staying up to date with the latest developments in your sector. If you’re not a naturally outgoing person, this might sound a bit daunting, but don’t worry, you can find a networking style to suit your personality. It doesn’t have to be about ‘working’ a room full of strangers.
Everyone has the potential to be part of your network: from your manager to the CEO. Colleagues, peers and clients are your obvious ‘targets’, but caterers, electricians and software vendors are also great people to build trusted relationships with. If networking sounds a bit self-serving and pushy to you, there’s another way to think about it. It is not just about getting your foot on the next rung of the ladder; it’s about gathering skills, tips and contacts that will help you work better and smarter across the whole of your career. It’s also about helping others through sharing your own expertise.
There are lots of different ways to network. Casual interactions in the kitchen where you can chit-chat to a co-worker. Small local gatherings where you can meet prospective clients. Larger, more formal events such as national conferences or exhibitions are ideal for learning from industry experts, mingling with peers and prospective employers, and finding out about new trends and services. There are virtual opportunities for networking, too, in remote meetings and webinars, or via social media. All have their benefits, and you can gravitate towards what suits you best.
A great place to flex your networking skills before going out into the big wide accountancy world is through ICAEW communities and your local ICAEW student society. Kiara Hudson is studying the ACA while working for Hillier Hopkins LLP in Hertfordshire. She played an active role in her local ICAEW student society, as their previous Treasurer, where she was involved in activities from hosting online study sessions to organising annual balls. It has been great for building her confidence and sharpening her leadership skills. Kiara’s top tip is to ‘Be bold! You need a little bit of belief in your own ability when it comes to talking to new people. You never know – you may possess a skill or quality that they are really looking for.’ Kiara now has a wealth of experience on her CV and a contact book full of fellow accountants to keep in touch with when she qualifies. And she’s already put her networking nous into practice, recommending a friend for a position at her company.
Four steps to networking success
1. Have a strategy
Form a clear idea about what you want to take away from an event before you attend. Research the companies or people you’re going to meet so you have questions or thoughts to contribute. Is there anyone in particular you want to talk to? Contact them beforehand with an introductory email or via LinkedIn, and it will be easier to approach them at the event.
2. Project confidence
Look the part. Dress cleanly and appropriately and you’ll feel more prepared. Body language is important, too, so make eye contact. It’s true in the virtual world, too. And while it’s natural to feel a bit wobbly when meeting new people, be aware of your worth. What are your specialities and interests? As someone starting out, you may not feel like you have much to offer, but you have fresh perspectives, enthusiasm, and digital skills and know-how. Prepare some ice breakers or conversation pieces and practice on your friends and family. If you believe in yourself, then others will too.
3. Stay engaged
Remember to listen and respond thoughtfully to what others are saying, but don’t push an agenda when you’ve only just met someone. The good news is that hybrid ways of working offer more opportunities for beginners to make their mark: in the virtual world it’s much easier to interact with individuals further up the hierarchy, so seize your chance. Write a blog; join a webinar and ask questions; post your thoughts on LinkedIn, and invite people you respect and admire to connect.
4. Follow up
When it comes to successful networking, it’s quality not quantity that counts. Don’t always be chasing the next contact: take time to strengthen the relationships you have. Follow up on encounters with a friendly thank you for their time and, if appropriate, an invitation to meet again, whether that’s a quick Teams meeting or a coffee. If you reach out to people via social media, such as LinkedIn, put a note in the invitation to remind the contact of where you met. Set aside time each day to check your profiles and respond to any comments or messages. And remember, it’s a slow burn. You won’t always get immediate results, but eventually your efforts will be rewarded.
Begin your networking journey by getting involved with your local ICAEW student society, including joining a local event near you.