Through networking with prominent people, Leah Gervais has made connections, found mentors, and gained helpful perspective.
The New York City-based business coach has chronicled her own career journey on her blog, Urban 20 Something. Connecting with high-profile people has helped her grow her brand, she said.
"When I started a podcast, I was able to reach out to high-profile people I had built relationships with over the years," she said. "Having those notable names as my first few interviews helped my podcast gain traction quickly and helped position my podcast in the marketplace."
Networking with prominent people can have many benefits, but it can be intimidating too. These tips can make it easier.
Do your homework. Before you reach out to a prominent person, think about what you hope to get out of the interaction, said Kelly Hoey, a New York City-based networking expert and author of Build Your Dream Network: Forging Powerful Relationships In A Hyper-Connected World. Then do a bit of research.
High-profile people are often busy. Before sending a cold email or placing a call, read the person's bio if it's available on their company's website. Hoey suggested coming up with a thoughtful question based on what you learn.
"People really want to share information, but they'll be immediately frustrated if you ask a question you could have found the answer to elsewhere," she said.
If you read about someone before reaching out, it can also help you figure out things you may have in common. Hoey offered an example: Say the person minored in marketing in college, and you did the same. In a situation like that, you could ask how they've applied those studies to their career in accounting.
Be yourself. Networking at events can be nerve-wracking, especially if you're hoping to connect with a prominent person at your firm or in your field. In these situations, Dalton Sweaney, CPA, a partner at GSA, LLP, a full-service accounting firm in Claremont, Calif., recommended staying away from technical accounting questions.
If you ask the other person for technical advice, "it's probably going to be a very short conversation," he said.
Sweaney, who coaches college soccer, often brings up sports or asks people about their families to find common ground. The goal is to make a connection while keeping things professional.
"Even the highest ranking or most high-profile people still have interests and hobbies, just like everyone else," he said.
Reach out over email. Gervais said she's had good luck using cold emails to connect with prominent people. She recommends keeping such emails friendly. When she first reaches out to someone, Gervais sends them an email with one sentence explaining how she found or knows them. She also includes a compliment and a clear request that is easy for them to fulfill — for example, she might ask if the person has 20 minutes for a Zoom call, she said.
Don't make an ask in the subject line, she said. "I personally use 'hoping to connect,' and it works well," she said.
Look for opportunities to connect at the office. If you're hoping to forge a relationship with someone at your organization, pay attention to their behavior, Hoey suggested. For instance, if they come in early, plan to do the same. It'll give you a better chance to start talking to them organically.
"When you're looking to reach out to a busy person, think about their life and their schedule," Hoey said.
If your firm participates in organized community service projects or offers employee resource groups, consider getting involved, Hoey said. It can be an easy way to meet high-level staff members you might not normally interact with.
Let them take the lead. It might sound like a safe bet to ask someone out for coffee, but when it comes to networking with high-profile people, it's better to let them call the shots, Hoey said. If you're hoping to connect with someone, you don't want to add stress to their day by asking them to leave the office for the coffee shop if they already have a hectic schedule.
Join a professional organization. Sweaney is active in the California state CPA society. He'd encourage anyone to get involved in a similar organization in their own state, he said.
"I can guarantee that they'll get more out of it than they put into it," he said.
Professional organizations often offer networking events. Sweaney said his involvement with the California Society of CPAs (CalCPA) and the AICPA Leadership Academy have also boosted his confidence, which makes it easier to put himself out there while networking with prominent people.
Try social media. Gervais has found success reaching out to high-profile people on social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter. She suggested tweeting articles or quotes by the person you hope to connect with (don't forget to tag them), as well as other content that might catch their eye.
Follow up, but don't think you need to offer something in return. Sweaney, Hoey, and Gervais agreed: Networking isn't always about give and take. When you're reaching out to a more established person, you don't necessarily need to offer them something in return for their guidance.
"People are busy and offers to help them can mean well, but in the end, come off like more work or something new to consider and manage," Gervais said. "Plus, I think people understand that sometimes you just want to connect and that's OK."
You don't have to offer a more senior person as much as they're giving you, Hoey said. Simply following up with an email or a handwritten note thanking them and explaining how you implemented their advice is usually enough, she said.
— Megan Hart is a freelance writer based in Wisconsin. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Courtney Vien, a JofA senior editor, at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.