By Breana J. Liberoni, CPA
If nothing else, 2020 has brought CPAs something that we often struggle with: a new go-to icebreaker. Meetings or networking events that I've attended since March 2020 have begun the same way, and it goes something like this: "Who would've thought we'd still be working remotely?"
That is usually followed by stories of how the pandemic has affected people’s lives and opens up the conversation quicker than any icebreaker I've ever heard. The hardest part of networking is always getting the conversation started. Now, we all share the common bond of our pandemic experience. But before we even get to the icebreaker, we need to find ways to connect.
CPAs have been working remotely from home for a year now. Our circle of connections has become exponentially smaller, and, for many, networking and expanding their professional networks has come to a complete halt.
Conversely, networking has become more important now than it ever has been. It is vital that we do not lose the social aspect of our careers and our profession as a whole. I'd like to share some tips from my experiences in this virtual world that will hopefully make networking a bit easier.
Find Fun Events
There's no rule that says networking has to include a series of interrogation-style questions followed by an awkward goodbye. We've all been to a networking event like this, but there are fun, social programs out there, even in this virtual world. In this past year, I've attended virtual mixology and cooking classes, happy hours, and trivia and game nights that have been a blast. I've found virtual networking is less about one-on-one conversations, and more about the mutual sharing of an experience that brings people together. In this type of atmosphere, it takes the pressure off individuals to speak out and conversations happen much more organically.
Hold Yourself Accountable
Excuses are much easier to get away with when you can hide behind a computer screen. Even the most outgoing personalities have days where they just don't want to network, so they come up with an excuse as to why they can't attend at the last minute. Put the event on your calendar, tell your spouse about it, or tell your closest peer or mentor. Create ways to hold yourself accountable and show up when the time comes.
Identify Yourself and Others
When attending a virtual event, make sure you include your name as you would on a name tag at an in-person event. This could include a nickname you go by, your company, and title after your name so people know where you are from or who you represent. Also, take note of others that attended and reach out on LinkedIn or send an email afterward as you would following an in-person event.
The Dreaded Camera
When empty black boxes appear on virtual meetings or events, everyone wants to see who will be the first brave soldier to turn on their camera and show their quarantine hairdo. I hope you're laughing, because I'm sure we've all had a similar experience by now. My advice is to be the brave soldier that turns on your camera first. I'm sure everyone will notice you or thank you for it later.
Check your hair, put on makeup, take off the sweatshirt and put on a nice shirt: do whatever you have to do to look the part for the camera. We all did this every day, and I'm sure one day we will again. So, do yourself a favor and give yourself a confidence boost. Showing your face and your smile is the best way to convey authenticity and create genuine connections.
Use Professional Associations
Many professional associations are still trying to engage members in creative ways, and are working even harder to try to do so to make them fun and meaningful from home. The PICPA and its local chapters have gotten very creative in putting together fun networking events.
Virtual networking doesn't always have to mean a Zoom or Teams call or a "face-to-face" camera interaction. Carving out an hour over the course of a week (as little as 10-15 minutes per day) to catch up on LinkedIn or sending existing connections a message to check in can be a great and meaningful way to network during these times.
In a world where many are diligently working away in their pj’s and cozy slippers, the actions you take and efforts you make to grow your network will speak volumes for the professional you aspire to become and set you apart from your peers. So, take these tips, get out into the virtual world, and do some networking in 2021!
Breana J. Liberoni, CPA, is a tax associate at Sisteron & Co. LLP in Pittsburgh. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Sign up for weekly professional and technical updates from PICPA's blogs, podcasts, and discussion board topics by completing this form.