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5 ways to level-up your networking

If you find networking uncomfortable, fear not. There are ways you can make the professional connections you need to move your career forward.
May 13, 2022

By Brandon Pope

You’ve heard the old adage — it’s not what you know, but who you know. Check your phone right now. How many applications do you have that involve social media in some way? How many followers do you have on Twitter? How many connections do you have on LinkedIn? These are all individual relationships that comprise your network through both professional and personal relationships — and they prove just how important networking is in our daily lives. 

Networking is a vital key to our careers and the professional relationships we form can significantly affect our lives. Studies have shown that more and more jobs are never even listed but are being filled by internal and external networking candidates. Recruiters often have interested applicants reach out proactively, time and time again, and individuals who have networked properly will be remembered when it comes time for interviewing. This means that professionals looking to switch positions may need to do more than just search job postings — brushing up on networking skills is ever more important. 

CPA professionals in public practice find even more importance in networking through expansion of business contacts. Business development, or professional networking, are two very important concepts to professionals who are charged with growing their practice and bringing in new business. Finding the right contacts and leveraging positive business relationships can significantly affect a business’s growth. In public accounting, technical knowledge will always be necessary, as the CPA designation continues to be the gold standard. However, as professionals climb the corporate ladder, bringing in new business and establishing professional relationships help prove value.

While networking is commonly viewed as an uncomfortable task or activity, it’s time for professionals to get comfortable with stepping outside of their comfort zones. With repeated practice and intentional efforts, professionals can become better networkers and establish increasingly valuable business relationships. Networking doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Finding volunteer activities, attending social events and getting involved with professional development programs are three easy ways professionals can start networking immediately.

In Richmond, ChamberRVA has an organization named “HYPE: Helping Young Professionals Engage.” On its website, ChamberRVA notes that “HYPE has three areas of focus: Connect YPs, Professional Development, and Community Engagement. Since 2007, HYPE (Helping Young Professionals Engage) has worked to develop talent and strengthen the YP culture in RVA through events and programming designed to help empower and ignite the passions of Richmond’s Future Decision Makers. HYPE’s goal is to connect and engage YPs to develop individual, business and community success for a vibrant RVA.” Other cities have very similar organizations that aim to achieve very similar results. 

Much like studying and performing an art, to gain the most from networking, professionals must employ proper techniques. Below are five practices I’ve found the best networkers use: 

1.    Come prepared.

Much like anything we do in life, to truly be successful, we must adequately prepare. Professionals who attend networking events often receive the list of attendees in advance. Skilled networkers will study the list and identify the relationships they aim to establish or nurture further. Knowing what you’re looking for in networking is crucial, but knowing what you’re looking to avoid can be equally as important. There are many types of people at networking events and some individuals can inadvertently keep you from your desired goals. If you find yourself in a situation where you need to exit the conversation, develop polite and prepared remarks to excuse yourself and regain your focus. 

2.    Develop a networking elevator speech.

College students looking to make an impression on recruiters are often told to have an elevator speech ready. This same concept can be applied to networking. Be familiar with the environment around you, know your audience and be up to date on current events so you can develop succinct remarks that can be used in multiple, short conversations. 

3.    Smile and be inviting.

No one wants to actively start a conversation with someone who looks overly stressed or like they would rather be somewhere else. Chances are when you’re at a networking event, everyone has a similar goal in mind — to mingle and establish professional relationships, too. Offering a gentle, inviting smile can alleviate pressure for you and the people with whom you’re trying to network. 

4.    Listen well.

Epictetus said it best when he noted “we have two ears and one mouth, so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” I often find myself at networking events where the rooms are noisy, and everyone is trying to talk over one another. While it’s important to establish a healthy dialogue and remain engaged in conversation, listening well is not only polite, but can also be very informative. If you find yourself in a group-setting conversation, consider resisting the urge to chime in and respond to each comment made, but rather lend a listening ear to the connections you are looking to make. 

5.    Follow up.

Part of proper preparation is bringing business cards to all networking events. Good networkers will request business cards from the new people they meet. Hold on to these cards and reach out in the following days. Also, consider connecting on LinkedIn and setting up a lunch or happy hour in the future to network further and develop your professional relationship. If the connection you make is in a similar line of work or industry, consider what referral options are available. Success is often found by helping others succeed.

Networking doesn’t have to be as cumbersome as it can initially appear. Recognizing that networking is an important part of business, identifying networking opportunities available and employing best practices that suit your personality are all key areas to focus on to implement a networking style that best suits your own personality. Make sure that you foster the professional relationships you’ve already established and strive to continue making new ones. You may be surprised just how beneficial networking can be. 

Brandon Pope, CPA, is an audit supervisor at Keiter in Glen Allen, serving primarily financial services and not-for-profit clients.  He serves on the VSCPA Young Professionals Advisory Council (YPAC).