How to network when you’re young and starting your career
According to a 2017 global survey by LinkedIn, almost most 80 percent of business people consider networking to be a critical component of their professional success. However, it can be challenging for young accountants and bookkeepers who lack work experience to make professional connections. In this article, I’ll provide some advice to help you take the first step to establish your network within the accounting profession.
Understand your personal value proposition
New professionals are commonly encouraged to view networking as self serving. However, the best networks are mutually beneficial to all parties. When you approach people with the intention of adding value to them, and they do the same, you’ve established a great connection. It’s best to think of networking as a conversation, where both sides have to contribute for it to be successful.
Part of approaching networking as a conversation is knowing your personal value. Similar to a company’s unique selling point, your value proposition helps you understand and improve your value in professional relationships. Why should people listen to you or work with you? While most networking blogs will encourage you to “just be yourself,” the harsh truth is that you’ll be disregarded if you don’t clearly communicate your personal value.
As the Harvard Business Review (HBR) points out, establishing your personal value proposition is critical to your success in networking. Your value proposition is your personal mission statement that connects your strengths and beliefs with your overall career goals. It requires you to take the journey of self discovery and arrive at an understanding of who you are – your identity. Here are four questions to help you develop a concise yet compelling elevator pitch:
- What are your strongest skills or greatest areas of knowledge?
- Who would find your skills or knowledge useful?
- What benefits do your skills and knowledge offer them?
- Why should people work with you over someone else?
Harness your existing networks
When you’re just starting, it can be daunting to join an accounting group on LinkedIn or attend an industry conference. However, family members and friends are often great sources of valuable connections as well. Asking well-connected family members or those who are within your profession about any relevant contacts may open up some surprising and beneficial opportunities. According to the same LinkedIn report, 48 percent of employee referrals attract high-quality candidates. This reality has led many companies such as Accenture to invest heavily in encouraging employee referrals. Reaching out to your family may feel too easy if you’ve read articles that tell you to throw yourself into the next conference bravely. But, it’s actually one of the greatest ways to train yourself to spot opportunities in unexpected places.
In addition to your family and close friends, you can also see if your college has an alumni club. The best way to find your alumni club is to visit your college’s career center or website. This is often a rich source of alumni who more than likely to help a fellow alumnus establish a profitable career. If your school has a social media presence, you may be able to find fellow alumni by looking through its followers.
Categorize contacts based on their purpose and relevance
Not all networking is equal, as explained in an HBR article. Some people will be your greatest friends, supporting you in your personal and professional development. These types of contacts are typically not a part of your workplace, and can be family members or trusted, wise friends. Other contacts will be more central to your role, helping you perform your current job. These are usually people such as supervisors and coworkers who are critical to your success within your current role.
Besides your peers and friends, there are people who help you plan for tomorrow’s successes. These are your mentors, who may or may not be essential to your current role. They’ll help you work out critical business decisions and facilitate new industry connections. In a survey conducted in 2018 by Olivet Nazarene University, 61 percent of respondents stated that their mentor-mentee relationships occurred over time and contributed to their overall job satisfaction.
The hardest part of networking
Especially when you’re beginning your career, the hardest part of networking is the beginning. To step outside of our comfort zone, and talk with people can seem daunting and uncomfortable; however, it pays great dividends in the form of industry relations and new friendships. Make time to connect with those nearest to you: you never know who they’ll become or where you’ll end up.