Networking Isn’t Just for Job Seekers
Even if you're gainfully employed, never neglect to build your network.

September 22, 2011
Sponsored by Robert Half International

Many accounting and finance professionals are fortunate to have robust networks that they can activate when job hunting. Typically, the job search is a period of renewing old contacts and making new ones. Job seekers step up their networking by attending professional meetings and social events, meeting with former colleagues for lunch, scheduling informational interviews and reaching out to past supervisors as references.

Once job seekers find a position, however, the majority allows their networks to go dormant again. This isn’t surprising — it’s hard to keep networking with the same consistency and intensity when you’re employed full time. But maintaining your professional network is something you should make time for throughout your career. Active, ongoing networking promotes your professional development, enables you to learn about other positions or companies and can boost your value to your company, if your contacts include potential clients or customers.

To increase your networking and make it more fruitful, don’t leave it to chance or wait until you have more time. Develop a set of networking goals and a plan for achieving them. Then you’ll be able to manage the time you have available and identify networking opportunities that make the most sense for you. Here are some tips to help you maximize your networking efforts, even if you’re working 40+ hours a week. These suggestions are not time-intensive and take only a few hours a month.

Leverage Online Resources

Professional and social sites like LinkedIn and Facebook make it easier than ever to keep in touch with your network. Spend just 15 minutes, once a week during your lunch break, updating your own status and checking and commenting on news posted by your contacts. It’s the simplest way to nurture and strengthen your connections.

Schedule Mini-Meetings

It can be difficult for busy professionals to get together for long lunches or dinners, so think in terms of shorter get-togethers. Can you schedule a quick face-to-face chat over a cup of coffee? How about touching base by phone or text messaging during your commute? Small chunks of time devoted to regular contact will be more effective in strengthening the relationship than lunch once or twice a year.

Prioritize Your Contact List

You don’t need to stay in touch with every member of your network at all times. There are likely specific people who deserve more frequent contact. Examples include those who actively need your assistance, such as a former colleague looking for work or someone with a knack for connecting people. By prioritizing your list, you’ll be able to focus your available networking time more strategically.

Prune Ineffective Activities

Do you tend to overcommit to volunteer opportunities because they seem like good ways to network? Review your current obligations and honestly assess whether or not they’re helping you reach your networking goals. Don’t be afraid to cut out those duties or activities that aren’t really helping you make new contacts.

Establish Your Expertise

Build your reputation as a knowledgeable source of professional information. Start a blog or comment on someone else’s, create podcasts, write articles for online publications and participate in discussions on professional forums. You’ll raise your professional profile and make new contacts at the same time.

Make Networking Natural

Whenever you find yourself in the company of other people, it’s an opportunity to do some informal, spontaneous networking. When you’re volunteering at your child’s school, attending a social event at your spouse’s or a friend’s company or mingling with former classmates at an alumni gathering, If you sense it’s appropriate, talk to someone about your work and ask them about theirs. If appropriate, exchange contact information and follow up later with a brief voicemail or email to solidify the contact. You never know whom you’ll meet and how they might enhance your network — or vice versa.

By taking a strategic approach to networking, planning ahead and setting specific goals and timeframes for yourself, you’ll be more likely to keep at it consistently even with a busy work schedule. You’ll meet potential mentors, career advisors, clients, future employers and colleagues who may also become good friends. You’ll also enhance your professional development and discover new career opportunities. Not a bad return on an investment of just a few hours a month.

This article is provided courtesy of Robert Half International, parent company of Accountemps, Robert Half Finance & Accounting and Robert Half Management Resources. Robert Half is one of the world’s first and largest specialized staffing firm placing accounting and finance professionals on a temporary, full-time and project basis. Follow Robert Half on Twitter at twitter.com/roberthalf.