The five questions you need to ask at a networking event

Have a big networking event coming up in the next month? Put these essential questions in your back pocket and take crucial steps along the path to your dream job.

Let’s face it: Accountants are in demand. Once you’ve spent all those years studying, training and, finally, getting that designation, the world is your oyster. Still, as an ambitious professional, you need to stay on top of new opportunities—both to expand your professional network or to potentially make a career change.

While networking events are particularly useful for the novice accountant, it doesn’t stop being important as you climb the corporate ladder. According to a recent survey of 1,400 CFOs by Robert Half Management Resources, fully one quarter of an organization’s top number-crunchers still see events, meetings and conferences as the best way to make professional connections—despite the relative ease today of networking online.

Usually the CFO has a solid launch pad—both connections and expertise—that makes networking a straightforward affair. But if you’re an accountant just starting out, how do you get the conversation rolling with prospective employers or coworkers?

Five questions to ask when networking

Here are five fail-safe questions that work in just about any context:

1. How did you get to where you are now?
People love to talk about themselves, and this gives you a way to open them up. Will they start from childhood, or just describe their path from graduation to their current job? Will they discuss mistakes along the way, or just triumphs? The beauty of this question is that it allows your subject to start wherever they feel comfortable—and reveal, potentially, a lot about who they are.

2. What’s a typical work day like for you?
A formal job description doesn’t begin to describe what we do. That’s why you should skip asking “what do you do?” and get your subject to describe a typical day instead. This forces them to be reflective, and not just regurgitate whatever is on their LinkedIn profile. Maybe there are a lot of internal meetings or time preparing for client presentations—two things that you’d never see on a CV.

3. How much client contact do you have?
Speaking of clients, many new hires prioritize work that is challenging, dynamic and not given to routine. They want to work with people, not just numbers. If that’s a priority for you, make sure you ask your subject about face time with clients: it will give you a sense of the hands-on nature of the job. How many times a month is he or she meeting with clients? If most of the subject’s work is behind-the-scenes and analytical, perhaps the job is not for you.

4. What are some of the toughest problems and decisions you handle?
This is the “stress test” of the conversation. Every job has its challenges, but it’s rare that you discover those until deep into your employment. This question gets at a job’s potential downside without asking a negative question. When you inquire not only about “tough problems” but also how your subject handled them, you are more likely to elicit a useful and comprehensive answer.

5. What do you see as the major issues/trends in your field today?
Get your subject to wax philosophical. You’ve discussed how they got where they are and some of the tough decisions they make—but what does it all mean? Accountants are a proud tribe, and we like to talk about the state of our profession. Where do they see things going? What are the challenges or hurdles ahead? Even if their answer isn’t immediately useful, this question shows that you’re a big-picture thinker—and that you trust them as an expert in the field.

 

Networking events allow for any number of conversations—and you can always follow up with more nitty-gritty questions about opportunities for promotion, pay or professional development. But start with these to get the richest, deepest perspective on the person you’re talking with.

CPA Canada and our provincial partners host a series of conferences and events throughout the year that represent the perfect opportunity to network with your colleagues and potentially find that great new gig. Top of the list of much-attend events is the massive annual The ONE Conference, happening this year in Ottawa on September 18 and 19; noteworthy provincial events include CPA BC’s Spring Pacific Summit, held every May in Vancouver, and CPA Quebec’s biannual Prestige Conferences.

For more information on this and more, visit our career and professional development hub.

Keep the conversation going

Got any tips for would-be networkers? Post a comment below.

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CPA Canada