4 Tips for Young CPAs to Maximize Networking Opportunities
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
If you’re like me, the answer to that question has changed over the years. I’ve answered everything from “shortstop for the Kansas City Royals” to “managing partner of a CPA firm,” and everything in between—and there is a lot in between. But, whatever your career aspirations are, no matter what position you hope to have, or what industry you hope to be in when you retire, you will need people to help you get there.
People who turn lofty dreams and career aspirations into reality almost always have one thing in common: a tremendous network of people. How do you develop this network when you’re a young professional? Where do you begin? It seems daunting to think of going from the seemingly insignificant network you graduated with to the “who’s who” list that some partners at your firm carry with them. While you could go to every one of the grip-and-grin networking happy hours offered every month, how effective is that? Is that really the kind of interaction you’re seeking?
- Networking is a two-way street. You strengthen your network and reinforce its bonds when you network from the outside in. Ask yourself how you can be of service to others in your network. Answer queries you see on LinkedIn, respond to requests to endorse or connect others to those in your network. By helping someone else in your network, you’ll make a positive impact and create a reputation for yourself as a networker who can help drive results. That reputation will serve you later on, when you need the network to work positively for you.
- Volunteer at a nonprofit organization. There are more professional and charitable organizations out there than you can possibly imagine; the key is to find a group whose purpose you care about. Find the right group and commit to actually helping the organization, not just attending their meetings or happy hours. Go to some meetings or events and make an honest effort to get to know the people and the organization. Once you know it could be a good fit, ask the leadership how you can get involved or if there are committees you can join. Committees are a great way to get to know the people in the organization and develop strong relationships. It is critical that if you are able to get a foot in the door that you follow through on any commitment you give. Volunteering isn’t just about growing your network though, it is also about giving back and providing your time to help others.
- Building a network takes effort. Simply walking around an event with a cocktail in one hand and business cards in the other won’t develop many meaningful relationships. Developing relationships is something that takes time and a history of positive interactions. Try to get to know people you want to connect with and do more than just meet them and exchange business cards. Ask about their business and how you can help them, or who you know that can help them. If you can do that, or even show you are interested in trying, you will create something to build on that is more than just a business card in someone’s desk drawer.
- Once you make those connections, maintain the relationships. Set reminders to ask people to lunch periodically and do not let them become one-and-done encounters. Every so often, I go through my stack of business cards and see who is in there that I haven’t had contact with in a while. If too much time has passed since my initial contact, my business card might as well be just another name in the phone book to them. Don’t let your work of connecting with someone turn into just another business card in a drawer.
Networking as a young professional requires some patience and effort, but it doesn’t have to be an effort you dread. It may seem fruitless initially, but if your focus is on getting to know people and how you can help them be successful, it will pay off and be enjoyable. The benefits of having a great network are too numerous to list here, but one thing is for certain: the earlier you start and the more effort you put in, the larger, more influential and more rewarding your network is sure to be.
Chad Allen, CPA.CITP, Senior Audit Manager, Cochran Head Vick and Co. Chad provides audit, review and business advisory services to small businesses and mid-market companies and oversees the firm’s commercial audits. He earned a B.S. in accounting from the University of Kansas and is a member of the Kansas Society of CPAs Board of Directors. Chad is a graduate of the 2013 AICPA Leadership Academy and the 2011 class of the Kansas Society of CPAs’ "20 Up To 40” Leadership Program.
Networking image via Shutterstock