You will likely attend parties over the holidays. Your own workplace party is like living in a fishbowl. You feel required to show up but having much fun is often out of the question. The only career advancement opportunities are getting senior management put a name to a face (yours) or showing good judgment by not behaving badly.
Other holiday parties have business or career advancement potential. As an accounting professional you may be looking for the inside track for getting more business or the right connections for finding your next job. What are these parties? The big three are the local chapter of your professional association, the alumni club and the chamber of commerce or other business group you’ve joined.
Like dating, it’s all about building relationships and impressing people in a short amount of time. People do business with people they like. They also help them get better jobs. Are you being interviewed on your feet? No. It’s even worse. You are on stage. You are the principal actor opposite your co-star, but the audience is the circle of party guests within earshot.
Let’s start with three questions people ask:
What Do You Do? Don’t assume people care. They are either being polite or can’t think of another question. Since humans have an attention span of eight seconds you probably just tell them you are a CPA and your firm name.
Better: Follow-up with “How much do you know about the accounting field?” Their answer will probably be qualified with a reference to their own profession. (“Not a thing. I’m a surgeon.”) Now you have an opportunity to provide detail.
If You Work at (firm) You Might Know (Name) Everyone looks for common denominators. They forget the size of your firm. Occasionally you get lucky. “I know her. She’s in our Hong Kong office.”
Better: Assuming you know the person, say something positive about them. “She’s doing great work in Hong Kong.” They will likely call them up and say: “I ran into a friend of yours last night…” Now they’ve gotten interested in you.
Why did you choose accounting for a career? Hopefully you haven’t wondered yourself. It may be the family business. It pays well and it has job security. Maybe you didn’t want a career focused on sales. These aren’t the best answers.
Better: “I’ve always enjoyed working with numbers. There will always be a need for accountants. It’s impossible for business owners to decipher the tax code for themselves. There are 1,281 pages in the Bible. There are 74,608 pages in the Federal Tax Code.”
Questions You Ask People
If everyone was single you would probably be asking what gym they use and where they go on vacation. If you are wearing your networking hat, you are probably determining if this person can help your career. That’s fine because they are probably doing the same thing.
What Do You Do? – Now it’s your turn to ask. They probably have a standard answer. Because they are used to being lumped into a category. (“Oh, you’re a lawyer.”) Use the opportunity to draw them out. People like talking about themselves.
Better: Be fascinated, or at least take a sincere interest. Their work might be so technical even their spouse doesn’t ask. Asking industry related questions shows you keep current.
LinkedIn – The jury is out. Some consider it a good business tool while others feel it’s lost its significance. With 467 million users, it’s likely they are a member. You might suggest connecting. Unfortunately, you haven’t given a rationale.
Better: “Do you find LinkedIn useful?” Draw them out. Mention you have found it a good way to share your firm’s publicly available research. Use that as the rationale to connect. Afterwards you can browse each other’s first level contacts.
Some people are good at small talk. Others enjoy talking to intelligent people who ask the right questions and come across as successful. Make a good enough impression and you’ve laid the groundwork for connecting on social media or keeping in touch professionally.