Before a young professionals' networking event this past summer, Rachel Anevski gave the junior accountants from her firm, Citrin Cooperman, a soccer-style pep talk.
Don't bunch up and keep to your friends from the firm, she said. Spread out, find pockets of conversation — and more than anything else, don't focus on collecting a handful of business cards.
"People forget that it's about relationship building," she said. Young accountants "were never taught how to do it, and they're spending time having relationships with technology, and not people."
CPAs are number crunchers by trade, but more and more, accounting firms are realizing that it's not enough to ensure their up-and-comers are technically proficient. They have to be able to develop contacts and build business. If not, the firms they stand to inherit will wither and die.
Edward Horton, co-managing partner at Citrin Cooperman, in Livingston, said there was no professional development when he was rising through the ranks. He had to learn the business side of accounting on his own. Horton now wants to ensure the firm's next generation has more opportunity for growth.
"I think we train people to be very good accountants. We don't necessarily train them to be good business people," Horton said.
"Yes, it's a profession, but first and foremost it's a business," he said. "We're looking for leadership. We want to develop the future leaders of this firm because we want it to continue to grow and prosper."
So Anevski, the firm's director of marketing, has established a professional development training program at Citrin.
It starts with roundtable interviews with young staffers, taking their collective pulse and figuring out areas that need work. Then, she conducts interviews with each of the young accountants, developing individual marketing plans. She helps them identify who they want to meet and why they want to meet those people, and she writes out measurable goals.
For some, those goals might be to attend three networking events in the next month. For others, it might be as basic as preparing an elevator speech and practicing it in front of the mirror, Anevski said.
"It varies based on the level of confidence someone has," she said. "I have a bunch of young professionals that were never given this attention. And they're just loving life right now that they're getting this ability to grow and learn and move forward."
Already there have been tangible results. Harry Carpenter, a manager at Citrin Cooperman, joined the firm in December and has participated in a number of networking events, including schmoozing with partners at a country club.
"There's a structure here for that," Carpenter said. "They provide me the flexibility that allows me to go out and participate in these events."
That socializing is paying off: Carpenter recently received an award for bringing a new client to the firm — an acquisition he made by making time for dinner with an old friend.
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