Home Online Business Blog Building a Strong Professional Network in the Accounting Industry: Networking Tips for Online Master’s Students

Building a Strong Professional Network in the Accounting Industry: Networking Tips for Online Master’s Students

19 Dec
Diverse business professionals taking at a conference

Building a professional network opens doors to numerous opportunities and fosters career development. Though you may think you’ll have a harder time networking as an online student, that’s not necessarily true. Online networking can bridge the gap between academia and real-world practice, offering professional connections, valuable insights, potential internships and future job prospects.1

This post will cover how you can network as an online graduate student in accounting to build a community of peers in the industry.

Understanding the Accounting Industry Landscape

In 2023, the revenue of the accounting services industry in the United States will reach almost $145 billion.2 The “Big Four” firms in the accounting industry include Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), Ernst & Young (EY) and KPMG.2 However, accountants work in all industries, both in-house and at firms of all sizes.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to start building a professional network is by joining professional organizations. Some of the largest ones include:3

  • American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA)
  • Institute of Management Accountants (IMA)
  • American Association of Finance & Accounting (AAFA)
  • American Accounting Association (AAA)

Identifying Professional Networking Opportunities

If you think of networking as something you only do at official events, you limit your opportunities. Networking can be an effortless part of your everyday life. It’s all about building relationships, staying in touch and trying to help others. Building your network is something you should do regularly, not something you only do when you’re looking for a job. By nurturing these authentic relationships, you’ll provide value to others and have contacts in place when you need them.4

As an online accounting student, you have many outlets for meeting people in and adjacent to the accounting industry, including the following.

Online Platforms and Communities

Many online accounting programs include discussion forums and group projects as part of their coursework. These platforms are excellent resources to build your professional network. Engaging actively in discussions and collaborating effectively on projects can help you form connections that may benefit your career. Leverage your university’s alumni networks for more opportunities once you graduate.

In addition, LinkedIn allows you to connect with accounting professionals globally. You can join specific accounting groups, participate in discussions and even publish content to showcase your knowledge and skills. Beyond LinkedIn connections, websites like AccountingWEB and AICPA Engage also provide forums where accounting professionals share knowledge, discuss industry changes and offer advice.5

Industry Events, Conferences and Networking Events

In addition to national conferences, organizations like the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) and the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) often have local chapters that host events. Attending these in-person events is a great way to make connections close to home.6 Some events are even geared specifically for networking or job hunters. These are great for meeting other professionals who are looking for new relationships and career opportunities.

Develop Networking Skills

When you think of networking as a chance to give as much as you take, people will naturally think of you as a connector and are more likely to be there for you when you need help.7 The following strategic networking skills will help you nurture and maintain professional relationships.

Lower Your Expectations

Approach each networking opportunity with an open mind. By casting a wide net and not placing too much importance on one networking event or person, you’ll increase your likelihood of building a large network. Recognizing you don’t have control over the outcome of every meeting will help you avoid negativity, making you more pleasant to be around.8

Focus on Helping Others

As a current (or prospective) student in graduate school, you may not think you’re in a position to help others, but you can always offer your skills, knowledge and time to others. If you meet someone who’s looking for a marketing manager and your former roommate is one, offer to make a connection. While you don’t want to keep score, if you invest in others, they’ll be more willing to invest in you–perhaps through mentorships or informational interviews.9

Craft an Elevator Pitch

The last thing you want is to find the perfect networking opportunity and not be able to think of anything to say. If you take the time to create an elevator pitch, you’ll never be in that situation. An elevator pitch is a quick–less than 60 seconds–explanation of your background, experience and purpose. You can use it at job fairs, when meeting hiring managers and introducing yourself at networking events. Practice saying it until it’s natural and you feel comfortable.10

Overcoming Challenges in Networking

Many people struggle with networking, but developing strategies to overcome challenges can put you more at ease. In particular, people who are introverted or shy may find networking difficult. If this is the case for you, finding a networking partner may help. You can also start with smaller events and connect one-on-one instead of in large groups.11 Focus on cultivating relationships, rather than on hitting goals related to your career, and you will likely feel more genuine in your interactions.

Another challenge you might face when networking is fear of rejection. Fortunately, most people you meet will likely be friendly and helpful, but it can still be hard to overcome insecurities. Setting realistic expectations and goals can help. If you set a goal to introduce yourself to three new people at an event, you’re in control. You can be successful regardless of the outcome of those conversations.12 Additionally, if you’re nervous about conversing, come prepared with questions to get others talking. This is a chance to practice good listening skills, which can go a long way in relationship building.

As a busy student, you may also have difficulty balancing networking with studying, particularly if you’re preparing for the CPA exam. Setting goals can also help with this. If you have a busy week, you may only have time to post in a few online discussions. On the other hand, if you have a free weekend, it might be the perfect time to attend a chapter event near you. Networking takes time, so planning ahead can help you fit it into your full schedule.13

Become a Leader in Accounting and Build Professional Relationships With William & Mary

The Online Master of Accounting at William & Mary will equip you with the skills and knowledge you need to become an industry leader. The connections you make at William & Mary will start a lifelong network. Our alumni work with all of the “Big Four” accounting firms and many other globally respected companies.

As a student and eventual alumnus of a William & Mary business program, you will also benefit from an extensive alumni network and opportunities to start networking well before graduation. With numerous networking tips and resources at your disposal, you’ll be able to find the best networking events to build relationships and professional networks and open up new career opportunities.

Contact one of our admissions outreach advisors today to learn how you can complete your studies in as few as 16 months.