Before COVID-19, David Almonte, CPA, CGMA, loved to network.
As the pandemic rages on, he has paused in-person meetings with anyone other than his immediate family, a practice he expects to continue for several months. However, he's still networking — only now, he's doing so digitally.
Today, "we have incredible technology at our fingertips," said Almonte, a financial reporting and analysis manager with Amica Insurance and a member of the AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission. "This isn't the time to use working remotely as an excuse not to expand or cultivate your network."
While it may seem counterintuitive, now is a great opportunity to widen your professional network. With so many people working virtually, distance has come to have less meaning.
"We're no longer meeting strangers at cocktail events, but that is such a small piece of networking," said New York City-based Mark Herschberg, author of The Career Toolkit: Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You. The broader reach you have now that "everyone is doing video events," he said, "can lead to new opportunities."
However, understand that networking right now serves a deeper purpose beyond just planting seeds for your next career move. "Finding ways to help and provide value is key. People are hurting and many are lonely, even if they are not saying it," said Thom Singer, an Austin, Texas-based recruiter, speaker, and trainer who has worked with several accounting firms in recent months to help keep employees engaged. "There is no way to know who in your networks needs someone to reach out. Find a reason to show up in people's lives."
The maxim that networking is always a two-way street remains true, said Almonte, a graduate of the AICPA Leadership Academy. "During these tough times, we may not need anything from our network, but someone in our network may certainly need something from us," he said.
Still, while the virtual world opens up an array of opportunities, networking remotely requires a different strategy with more purpose and commitment, Singer said. With the "serendipity that can happen by networking in person" difficult to come by, "you have to be on offense and approach people for conversation," he said.
Here's what to do:
Maximize digital networking. Make sure you're getting the most that you can out of LinkedIn, which has become a vital part of almost everyone's professional presence. Update your profile, being as specific about your accomplishments as you can, and tap the site to locate people and make connections or ask existing connections to introduce you to someone, Almonte said.
Look for professional groups where you can showcase your expertise by contributing to conversations or adding posts, suggested Carol Tompkins, a business development consultant with AccountsPortal, a provider of online accounting software.
Even though you're not paid for the posts, this work will showcase your knowledge, "making it easier to attract other professionals in the field," said Tompkins, who works in the United Kingdom but has made new contacts worldwide during the pandemic.
See if your existing connections have online outreach. Check out the websites of your college or university's alumni groups, trade groups, and other affinity organizations to see if they have a connection platform, a mentoring space, or virtual networking events where you can become active, said Colleen DelVecchio, a career and leadership coach based in Northampton, Mass. If they're not planning any virtual events, view it as an opportunity. "Email the office and see if you can host one," DelVecchio suggested.
When you attend a workshop or webinar, don't be afraid to connect with the presenter before or after. "Send a note saying that you are looking forward to their presentation or that you enjoyed it and would love to continue the conversation," said DelVecchio.
See what you can do for the other person. Remember that your initial contact shouldn't involve asking for a favor, said Terrell Turner, CPA, founder of the TLTurner Group, a boutique accounting firm in Charlotte, N.C. "The hard truth is this: You have not earned the right to ask for a favor if you have not delivered value to them first," he said.
When you try to make a connection, think of how you can help the other person or mention a mutual interest or connection. Spend time making the introduction memorable. People can be overwhelmed with email, so make your introduction "personal and not a broadcast," Singer said.
Share a digital drink. Hosting a virtual happy hour or coffee break from the comfort of your home is a low-risk way to get to know a new connection. While not using the camera seems easier, turn your camera on, Almonte said. "It makes for a more genuine connection, plus it allows both parties to see facial reactions and utilize body language, such as using your hands for emphasis."
Be sure to remember the small details: Dress professionally, make sure your background is neutral, and log on early to allow time to work through any tech issues. Don't worry if this feels different from traditional networking. "It's OK for it to be a little awkward. Chances are the feeling is mutual," Almonte said.
Now is the time to maximize this unique environment before many people return to their offices and come to rely less on remote technology, said Herschberg. "With the end of COVID-19, hopefully, and thankfully, in sight, make the most of remote networking while you can," he said.
Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.
— Dawn Wotapka is a freelance writer based in Georgia. 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.