“To be, or not to be: that is the question.”

In one of literature’s most famous lines, Shakespeare’s Hamlet contemplated a simple, yet bewildering conundrum. Although we will not delve into the meaning of life or the intricacies of this literary classic, we do want to apply this concept to the idea of networking.

In the current volatile economic climate, young professionals (YPs) face seemingly unanswerable questions, and with uncertainty, YPs find themselves in an unprecedented position. Traditionally, young professionals were hired to perform a relatively defined set of tasks based on their skills and educational backgrounds. However, with layoffs looming and rumors spreading, YPs have started asking themselves: ‘What else can I do to add value to my company? What will set me apart from others, making me indispensable?”

With this in mind, YPs pose the key question: “Should I venture out into the marketplace networking on behalf of my company or should I focus on providing a high level of service to our existing clients?”

The answer varies based on each young professional’s specific circumstances; however, the underlying reasoning remains constant: Choose whichever method most helps your company’s bottom line.

To Network …
Due to the mere connotation of the word, YPs can be apprehensive about networking. When we think of the word “networking,” a flood of anxiety immediately takes over. A picture of being in a large room with a nametag on … walking around having a series of brief, awkward conversations with strangers … all consummated by the exchange of business cards.

Most of us wonder, “What value can I provide to my company at events like this with my level of experience and limited knowledge-base?” “As a young professional new to the business, how can I attract any clients for my company?” and/or “What should I say?”
Was this networking event the brainchild of a few YPs aiming to create a forum to give away the remainder of the giant box of business cards they received on their first day of work – after they passed out the first few to their relatives and friends, and dropped a few in the bowl of the local Chipotle hoping to win five free burritos?

After the minor panic attack subsides, the virtues of networking become clear. The term “networking” encompasses much more just the events. Any interaction that connects you to others in the marketplace and gives you the opportunity to introduce your company is “networking.”

The key for young professionals is to be prepared to speak intelligently about your company when presented with the opportunity, no matter the setting. The good news is that YPs don’t need to know everything; they simply need to know, in general terms, what they are selling.

Consider the answers to these three questions, and have your responses ready:
What products and services does my company offer?
What are my company’s strengths over our competitors?
What are my company’s specialties?

The ability to effectively communicate these three key points allow YPs to pave the way for the introduction to the appropriate people at their company who do know the answers to all of the specific technical questions.

Meeting other young professionals also allows YPs to build relationships for the future. As YPs progress in their careers, they will have a broader base of connections. However, the critical issue of timing comes into play. It is clear that networking is beneficial in the long run, but in our results-now-based environment, do employers really want their YPs spending precious time cultivating these relationships?

Hopefully, the answer is yes. Your company may even have a policy in place to assist you in your networking endeavors. Seek out your supervisor or mentor for guidance and draw on their networking knowledge; it can provide valuable insight.

… or not to Network
For those of you who chose your profession solely to minimize your exposure to human interaction, we apologize for the following reality check. In order to progress in your career, no matter what your field, you will need to be adept at building relationships and selling your work.

Yes, that even includes tax accountants. However, YPs also should focus on providing a high level of service to the existing clients the company has and building their knowledge base.

Today’s market demands more work, at a higher level, for cheaper rates. Shouldn’t a young professional complete his or her assigned tasks as efficiently as possible? As clients cut corners, companies must become creative on attracting new clients, and maybe, more importantly, maintaining the client base they already have. Young professionals must recognize this, and play an active role in preserving existing client relationships.

Here are a few ways a young professional can help contribute to the bottom line:
Become well-versed in your company’s business structure and product lines, so that you are able to recognize opportunities to cross-sell your products and services.

Keep current on changing and emerging topics in your industry, so that you can be a resource to coworkers.

With everything a young professional faces in today’s challenging business environment, this concept may hold the key to the YP’s future. As a result, let’s modernize Shakespeare’s question: “To network, or not to network: that is now the question.” How will you answer it?

Abby Brantley, CPA, is a tax associate, and Daniel Travis, CPA, is tax manager with PKF Texas. Contact them at 713.860.1400 or abrantley@pkftexas.com or dtravis@pkftexas.com.