• Career Center

    Holiday Party Socializing With No Regrets Afterwards

    By | November 18, 2016

    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.

    • Adam Hill

      I’m going to go take a quick shower after reading this.

      • Bryce Sanders

        Thanks for commenting. It’s logical to have answers prepared for common questions. It sounds like you are seeing something else. Tell me more.

        • Adam Hill

          Just seems like sales mode 24/7. If you were to put professions up on a color wheel, sales and accounting would be the exact offsetting colors.

          • Bryce Sanders

            I know where you are coming from and appreciate the time you took to answer my question. The color wheel analogy is good. No one likes those people who are always “switched on” regarding sales and accounting is generally not that type of field. I was trying to be careful in writing the article, setting the stage by mentioning three types of organizations where that behavior would be expected: Alumni association, chamber of commerce and professional organization (ie: Manufacturers). Regardless of the situation, you would not want to be predatory, but these environments are often more business than social.

            • Adam Hill

              Fair enough and point taken. I am just trying to envision the other people who are reading these articles and my mind goes right to the “eager’ senior at the campus visit who won’t shut the hell up with their staged questions. I saw this way too much as a student going through the recruiting process, as well as being the recruiter. If I had any say in the hiring process, those people were automatically off the list.

            • Bryce Sanders

              Good points. It’s a good idea to draw people out and let them do the talking. I’m thinking this is more of a social gathering, yet within an overall business content. (The type of organization). I’m not a big fan of elevator speeches or anything that sounds scripted. People can tell.

    • N.E.R.D.

      My personal rule is I avoid anybody who talks about work at office social gatherings. I will just get up and leave the conversation.

      Fuck them. It’s annoying as shit and I’d rather sit in silence than force conversation about work.

      • Bryce Sanders

        Thanks for commenting on the article. “What do you do?” is probably the question most commonly asked of strangers at parties and events. If someone persists on talking about work or sounds like they are selling something, I can see why you would want to leave.

        • N.E.R.D.

          “What do you do” is an introduction. It shouldn’t be the body of the conversation, IMO.

          I tell people I’m a tax accountant, but I don’t get into the details. Nobody, including myself, cares much about the details of this industry outside of the office.

          • Bryce Sanders

            Agreed. It can make for interesting conversation to take an interest in what they do. You are not dwelling on yourself or selling anything. You meet lots of people who do really interesting stuff.

            • Yeah but the problem with telling someone at a Function (outside of Practice) that you are a Tax Accountant invariably preciptates questions about tax, e.g.”Uncle Bulgaria of Wimbledon left me a house and the contents of his broom cupboard; what are the tax implications?”. I suspect N.E.R.D. who rather not talk shop as it isn’t much fun.

            • Bryce Sanders

              You are right. That’s a problem. It’s similar to doctors and lawyers being asked for free medical advice. One way to tactfully get out of that situation is to bring up confidentiality. If they are really serious, they can talk on the phone afterwards. Another is “That’s a specialized area. It’s not my area, but I know a guy..,” I understand the objective is to not talk shop.

            • For Functions inside of Practice, you have to suck it up because as we all know, you have to play the politics.

            • Bryce Sanders

              So true. With the article I was aiming at a middle ground between social and business. Alumni, Professional (non accounting) Society, Chamber. Yes, you are correct. As the first paragraph mentioned about office parties. “Required to show up…not have much fun.” Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

            • Yes but the B4 firms make it ‘their business’ to keep in touch with the Alumni because this is how they get the business in order to keep it in the family, which is quite ironic as there is no love lost in the majority of accountancy firms. I’m sure you knew this and to misquote ‘Private Eye’, I’m getting tired and emotional.

            • Bryce Sanders

              Alumni was a college reference. I realize “alumni” is how investment banks get favorable treatment through government agencies. You’ve brought up the good point that’s the way the B4 firms do it too. Happy Thanksgiving!