While the phrase “it’s not what you know, but who you know” has floated around for decades in the business world, I think people these days are sensing (accurately, in my opinion) that relationships have become even more important in the career/business success equation than they ever have been before.  Arguably, more important by a whole order of magnitude, especially now that social networking technologies have become commonplace and people are able to connect in a  wide variety of new and creative ways.

Could this be an overstatement of things?  Or a convenient whitewash of history and the important role relationships have always played in business endeavors?  Perhaps.  But either way, there’s no question that networking is a crucial part of job hunting success — and that everybody stands to gain by getting better at it.

For this reason, I thought I’d take a moment to share some great networking tips and insights that were passed along to me by my good friend, Virginia Kirn, over at Ajilon Finance.  Virginia has been an executive recruiter in the accounting and finance field for many years — and is one of those “added value” recruiters who doesn’t just always focus on making a buck, but also tends to dispense great job search advice and try to help people be successful, even if she can’t directly place them in a job, herself.  As part of this commitment, she devotes a lot of time to coaching the candidates she meets about the networking process, since (please excuse the gross generalization) most accounting professionals tend to be pretty introverted — and may not be quite as savvy about the relationship management process as, say, their counterparts in the sales and marketing world.

So without further ado, here are some specific pointers that Virginia was kind enough to let me pass along:

— When attending professional and industry events, try to go as someone’s guest whenever possible.  If you don’t know a member of the group in question that you can ask for this favor, reach out to the Membership VP of the association (you’ll almost always find this person listed on the organization’s website) and ask them to bring you as their guest.  They should be happy to do this for you, since it’s their job to welcome new members to the club, after all!

— When introducing yourself to people, say something along the lines of “I’ve been doing ABC for the last x number of years.  For my next career step I’d like to do XYZ.  Who do you know in that line of work?”  If they’re able to think of somebody in the room that meets that description, ask them to introduce you to that individual.  If the person in question isn’t in attendance,  ask if they’d mind sharing their contact info and having you get a hold of them, using their name as a reference point.  And if things are going really well, shoot for the moon and ask “is there anybody else you know that might be useful for me to contact?”  Try to get two names from each person, if possible.

— If you’re conducting an informational interview, and seeking to learn more about a new career field, some good questions to ask are 1) How did you get your start in this industry?; 2) What professional associations do you belong to?; 3) What would you recommend to me at this stage in my career?; 4) What is fun/difficult/satisfying about this line of work?; and 5) What professional certifications are most valuable in this particular career field?

— In every networking situation, make a point to circle back around to the person who originally introduced you and thank them for the referral.  Say something along the lines of “I met with so and so.  It was great!  I learned about this and that and the other thing.  Thank you for opening your network to me.”  Following up in this manner is extremely important because 1) It is professional courtesy; 2) It gives them a chance to give you another name, in case they’ve met someone else for you to talk to; and 3) It keeps you top of mind.  As part of this step, you can also offer to open your professional network to them by saying something like: “What kind of people would you like to be connected to?  Perhaps I can return the favor.”

Wrapping up, on the subject of networking as a whole, Virginia’s point-of-view is that: “Networking is fun, powerful, and a great way to recession-proof your career.  It is an essential part of finding work that you feel passionate about.  Whether it’s connecting with hiring managers, candidates, customers or quality vendors, networking is how business gets done.”

Great advice, Virginia, and if anybody has some follow-up comments they’d like to share — or better yet, some accounting/finance needs in their organization they’d like some help filling — Virginia can be reached here and I’m sure would love to hear from you!