Networking to find the right fit: Smarts and skills aren’t the only things firms are looking for.
Networking, the key to any great career, can help students stand out as they go through the built-in system of on-campus events that facilitate entering the workforce. And yet these same networking opportuni- ties can be a hurdle for some.
“It starts quickly and students need to prepare for it,” says Zainab Suratwala, President of McGill’s Management Accounting Society. Recruitment begins in the second year with a “network or perish” rallying cry. Students must get out of their shell as cocktails, campus visits, conferences, firm tours and presentations give them their first real look at the field.
Human capital is a firm’s greatest asset so finding the right fit is paramount. Technical skills aside, interviews focus on personality and values, says Jasmine Marcoux, CPA, CA, of the Ordre des comptables professionnels agréés du Québec (OCPAQ). “GPA isn’t enough. You have to be seen.”
Networking, participating in committees and campus work, and volunteering show you can lead and handle multiple tasks and relationships. Young professional accountants work long weeks for extended periods, so a strong work ethic speaks volumes. Montreal firms besieged by a thousand candidates a year all want the same person, says Marcoux: “Well-rounded, dynamic, not too shy. Personality is big.”
Taking initiative outside the classroom
Build relationships as soon as possible, says Josh Miller, CPA, CA, of Fuller Landau, a mid-sized accounting firm in downtown Montreal that offers a full range of services. “To say you know someone 15 years from the time you were 20 counts for a whole lot more than saying you know someone a few years at age 35.”
That was challenging for Tuan Dinh, Executive Vice-President (external) of the John Molson Accounting Society. “At first, I only thought about studying,” he says. Observing that many students and organizations were actively engaged in networking, he realized that accounting meant more than hard skills. Although shy, he began attending networking events and soon felt more comfortable in social environments. “These skills follow you for life, and they paid off in volunteering positions, influential contacts and job opportunities.”
Student Society and Career Services calendars are chock-full of workshops, mock cocktails and peer reviews. Quebec’s chartered professional accountants Order has campus committees offering social events, seminars and conferences in etiquette, ethics and corporate culture. The order’s Young CPA committees reach out to students with recruitment events, such as the big September cocktails for second-year students. First-year students are offered the CPA, CA Discovery Tour, basically professional speed dating with 10 to 15 firms.
Sophie Marchand, CPA, CGA, author of the popular business and accounting blog Mon Cher Watson, says pre-networking is vital and emphasizes: Don’t look, be found. “Through a blog or profile [such as on LinkedIn], you get the right people to notice you before you look for a job.” It saves time and energy, everything is online and it’s free; you can move into face-to-face when contact is established. “Don’t be all over the place; you wouldn’t throw your business cards at everyone.” Students should look for the right people at the firms they want to work at: Those looking for the specialized accounting skills they possess.
Chatter vs. character
With dozens of firms at large-scale events, it’s hard to be noticed in a competitive crowd and those who succeed are very personable. It’s not a perfect process, because amazing people can go unnoticed if they don’t shine for those five critical minutes. Suratwala advises those with little life experience to prepare: “Learn the vocabulary, dress and etiquette. Attend lectures and small events, ask questions and absorb the culture.”
“Arrive early before pecking orders are established,” says Sharon Bishin, a Corporate and Employability Trainer with Agence Ometz, which offers a wide range of employment services. “Be a really good listener, give others a chance and don’t always be strategic.” Rather than prove your generic accounting skills by talking about new tax rules or practices, demonstrate character, which speaks of your potential value as an employee. A well-honed elevator pitch works, too, for those serendipitous moments.
Queries about process—the daily life of the working professional accountant—and feigning interest are bad strategy. “It’s apparent you’re filling space,” says Suratwala. “You’ll be working under very stressful conditions and your true self will emerge.” People often forget the content of discussions but remember how they felt about someone. She adds: “Have an exit strategy: If a talk turns negative, go. If it’s good, leave on a high note; this is where they start choosing final interviews.”
Miller points out that “no one you meet today will give you business next week. You have to think and act long-term.” Networking is an ongoing exchange during industry or social events. Volunteering can keep juices flowing. “Organize a party,” says Marchand. “Join a company sports team, and you’ll meet people from other firms. Have fun and get people to know you.”
Les carrières de la comptabilité 2013