The networking tips you won’t find on Google

May 01, 2019

How does a soon-to-be newly-qualified Chartered Accountant make effective networking choices? Lisa Hughes ACA, Senior Associate in Barden, shares her personal top networking tips.

While working towards your professional accounting qualification, and throughout your career, you’ll be presented with plenty of opportunities to network. For some it’ll be easy, for others it may be a bit tricky, and for many, the thought of walking into a room of strangers and networking will strike up a sense of fear. There is nothing to be afraid of when it comes to networking.

It’s all about relationships 

Networking is about relationships. It’s about being a first-class listener. As Dale Carnegie once said, “If you want to be interesting, be interested.” Networking also about serendipity – the idea that you can make random chance happen in a non-random way by doing certain things, going certain places and hanging around with certain people.

Professor Robin Dunbar, a British evolutionary psychologist, first came up with the theory that an individual can only have around 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. In today’s world, however, we have thousands of connections on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. Whether they are meaningful or not – they are still connected to you in some way. And therein lies the challenge…

Strong connections 

Networking is about having strong connections with a small group of people, and complementing that with a wide array of weak connections – from which opportunities can and will arise. It’s less about what you know and more about who you know – that’s what networking is all about.

There’s a vast array of literature out there on networking for the modern professional, but here are some tips based on our experience.

Position yourself

Business theorist Jeffrey Pfeffer tells a powerful story of a manager who attributes his success to his decision of where to sit. He noted that, during the course of the day, people walked to the cafeteria and the washrooms. He found where the two paths tended to intersect, near the centre of the open-plan office layout and took that position as his work location. He attributes much of his subsequent success to that simple move since it gave him much better access to what was going on in his department.
In short, if you aren’t good at going up to new people, situate yourself so they’ll come to you.

Open-ended questions

After you position yourself properly, how do you make the most of it at a CPD event or business lunch? First, everyone there will most certainly feel the same way you do. Standing awkwardly at the edge of people in conversation is not a place anyone wants to be, but we’ve all found ourselves there at some time or another. Going up to strangers and saying introducing yourself feels a little unnatural, and while there’s no magic bullet, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • If all you have to say is, “Hi there. My name is Bob” followed by silence, then don’t bother. You need to offer more.
  • Have a few open-ended questions in your back pocket to stimulate some conversation, ideally ones that enable you to listen twice as much as you talk. “What brings you here this morning?” or “What’s keeping you busy these days?” are great open-ended questions.
  • Don’t talk about yourself. Instead, ask the person you’re speaking to about themselves.

Be the human being

I prefer not to lead with a handshake or even, “My name is Lisa. I work with Barden. Barden is a recruitment company that works exclusively with the accounting and finance community in Ireland.” You’re there as a human being to meet other human beings, not as the manifestation of a business. You’re looking to make a human-to-human connection, not a business-to-business connection.

Tonality and body language

When making your first impression, you should be engaged, enthusiastic, curious and have supportive non-verbal action. Folded arms don’t convey support, for example. Non-verbal communication is key as what we say accounts for just 7% of communication. How we say it (or tonality) accounts for 38% of the overall message while body language (non-verbal communication) accounts for 55% of the overall message.

Ask questions. Be excited. Ask for details. Don’t expect the other person to carry the conversation. Laugh (appropriately) and use that all-so-awesome secret weapon that we all have but often forget about: the simple smile. Smiling is the single most powerful thing you can do when you first meet new people. Research shows that people evaluate everyone they meet in terms of warmth and competence. And, of the two, guess which matters more?

Yup, warmth. So, smile. 

We all have the ability to be a good networker if we just take a few minutes to figure out the right way to connect with people and conquering our fear of doing it poorly. Listening skills, authenticity and warmth are all it takes.