The first few years of your career can be difficult to navigate. There's an expectation to be professional to the standard of seasoned pro's without a) having much experience and b) being able to accommodate every expectation as times and common practices have changed. Keeping everyone happy and making genuine connections can feel intimidating, but it is possible.
Start by building a good base of helpful practices. Understand that it we live in an age where a good handshake and business card are as necessary as an up-to-date LinkenIn and online presence. You'll have to consider old school and new school approaches and figure out how to bridge the gap, but it's not something you need to shy away from.
Practice what feels like common sense
We all know someone with an awkward handshake, poor manners, or awkward goodbyes. What do those type of things have nothing to do with? Someone's skillset and proficiency. What do they have everything to do with? Their first impression that turns into their reputation. Sure, they are superficial qualities but they can stick. The easy thing to do is to assume you are great at all these things. Just make sure you keep the handshake firm but not overbearing, make sure to freshen your breath before meeting new people, and have a go to exit strategy that isn't to short but also doesn't linger and make the goodbye awkward. Like we said, no one really thinks they are bad at these things, but we all know someone who is painfully bad at the simple things. Just make sure it isn't you.
The key to remembering names
This can be one of the worst most embarrassing things to happen, especially in interactions with only one or two people. You just got introduced and need to remember someones name but can't! The first way you can help yourself is to not forget it in the first place. To do this, when someone introduces themselves, immediately respond with their name "Nice to meet you, Sam". And right after that make three mental notes - 'Sam's last name is O'Hare. Sam works for our sister company. Sam has brown hair". You are much more likely to recall someones name if you've used it and if it is paired with physical qualities or other professional associations. If you still forget, just be honest and apologetic "Sorry, what's your name again? I want to make sure I remember." or simply ask for a business card.
Have a business card - and make sure it's a good one!
You may think that we've completely entered the digital age. The proof is in the large amount of young professionals that have mastered LinkedIn and mobile networking, but still lack a business card or have opted for a glaringly cheap option. True, the business world doesn't rely as heavily on the little rectangle of paper, but these networking tools aren't relics yet. Many people lose track of online connections because they come and go so fast. A hard copy of your information that can stay in someones wallet or sit on their desk can prove to be extremely beneficial. Opt for a thicker card stock and good ink. You may save a couple bucks by going with the cheapest option but the goal is to stand out. Make sure you get a hardy card with a unique design that has all your important contact information on it.
Don't force a connection
Not every interaction is going to be great. Sometimes you won't have anything to offer the other person or vice-versa. Recognize this and move on. It's okay. The failure here would be wasting both of your time trying to make a bond that's not there.
Master your exit strategy
Don't be afraid to have a lunch that runs long if the conversation is great but in general, stick to a timeline for first interactions. Be respectful of the other person's time and your own. If there's more to be had suggest you contact them and set up a meeting for lunch, coffee, or a common interest like golf or watching a game after work. If it's appropriate, offer a business card or exchange numbers. End with a good handshake and ask where they're going after to avoid the goodbye where you then walk with each other. Follow up later that day or the next with a text or connection on LinkedIn with a message saying you appreciated meeting them.
Doing these simple things well will result in boosting your professional reputation and making connections that will benefit you and your company. Keep it genuine and concise, don't try too hard, and remember to manage person to person and online interactions as equally important.
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