It is 2017 and as an active social media user, I keep my LinkedIn page updated and detailed, so I have recruiters calling me daily. But for some reason, networking events—the analog version of all social media—seems to leave me uncomfortable, nervous, awkward and shy. Do these feelings and insecurities sound familiar? You are not alone.
Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction
There is an aversion to networking, and the word, per se, brings up negative connotations. Networking, which I will refer to as relationship building interchangeably, promotes career and personal growth and fulfillment. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) says, “In today’s world, networking is a necessity.” The article continues: “A mountain of research shows that professional networks lead to more job and business opportunities, broader and deeper knowledge, improved capacity to innovate, faster advancement and greater status and authority.”1 “Building and nurturing professional relationships also improves the quality of work and increases job satisfaction.”2 Social media and LinkedIn, in particular, have done wonders for relationship building across industries and geographies previously thought impossible. However, as we know in our culture, face-to-face conversations and conventional handshakes take the trust and confidence in relationships to an incomparable level. For example, Anthony Rodriguez, chief risk officer at AFEX and a member of the ACAMS advisory board, says that relationship building and networking at ACAMS events was helpful in his search for a new role as he was relocating his family from California to New York. Rodriguez says, “I used an ACAMS event to start my job search, which resulted in interviews and job offers in a very short period after the event.” Although this is a notable example of networking as a tool for career management, it is important to emphasize that Rodriguez had spent many years building both his personal brand and running strong compliance programs.
Psychologists have discussed the difference in the way individuals’ regulatory focus3 drives their perception of networking success for their careers. They call those motivated by growth and advancement “promotion-focused.” In contrast, those seeking safety and security in networking environments and professional groups are called “prevention-focused.”4 In short, the balancing act of internal motivations taking place within all of us has a direct effect on how we perceive professional networking. Peter Wild is an example of this psychological theory in practice. Wild, who founded AML Wild Solutions and is co-chair of the ACAMS New York Chapter and a member of the CAMS-Audit faculty, came to the U.S. from the U.K. knowing only three people in the early 1980s. After deciding he was going to make a name for himself, he figured he was going to need help in building his credibility as an IT and audit professional. He was promotion-focused. He went to as many networking events as he could find and was able to leverage an existing relationship to get a seat on a panel at a conference. He was, by far, the most junior person on the dais. To this day, he believes that actively putting himself out there—and not avoiding the inevitable rejection and judgment—got him to a senior and respected level within the AML and IT audit community. He also believes that relationship building and relationship managing are the best ways to cultivate personal executive presence.
Wild believes that AML and financial crimes compliance has evolved from a specialization into a complex profession with a diverse number of verticals. AML and compliance program leaders are constantly thinking about how to make their programs better, efficient, cost-effective and state-of-the-art. Networking sessions and events are facilitating progress and advancement by providing a venue for people to ask one another: What are the regulators thinking? Are they more anti-innovation or pro-transparency? How can I embrace artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning? How do I make my suspicious activity reports better? In addition, networking gives people access to others’ stories and experience, which is helpful to newer professionals who are continuously pondering which verticals of an AML program they are drawn to (e.g., know your customer over data analytics). In the future, these professionals become the next generation of leaders, who will pay it forward by influencing their junior counterparts. And, the lifecycle continues.
There are many remarkable stories about people successfully using networking events for career advancement. But can we replicate these successes and follow steps to make professional gatherings productive to our careers? The answer is a resounding yes.
The Anatomy of Networking at an ACAMS Event
At ACAMS’ national and local events you can meet fellow AML and compliance professionals or learn innovative ways to do your job and manage your teams better. Vasilios Chrisos, principal at PwC’s Financial Crimes Unit and ACAMS global advisory board member, says: “Being able to establish a network of contacts has been invaluable. It helps to have these trusted relationships. I’ve found comfort in being able to call on my industry friends, colleagues and peers to discuss a variety of matters (e.g., new regulatory requirements, emerging threats) and bounce ideas by them.” Rodriguez shares the same sentiment: “I have found that everyone I have met at an ACAMS event and subsequently called for help goes out of their way to share their knowledge and help solve the problem at hand or help me find the answer to my question.” So, next time you attend an ACAMS event, make sure you take advantage of the networking sessions. All it takes is a handshake, a smile and an introduction. And do not forget to share your business cards! If you do not have business cards, make personal ones prior to the event. You can find great web-based personal and business card firms online.
Intentions and Purpose
Your paramount intention and purpose should be to become a more valuable part of the community
Because most networking events are scheduled, you should think about your intentions, purpose and preparation. What are you trying to achieve and how will you achieve it? The answer to this question will determine how you prepare for the event. Your paramount intention and purpose should be to become a more valuable part of the community. If you are a vendor, how can your services and products help AML and BSA officers run their programs better? If you are a speaker, create informative material with practical advice for attendees to take home with them. And, if you are an attendee, learn as much as you can from the great sessions, so you can teach your colleagues and adapt new techniques to your programs.
Moreover, Teresa Riccobuono, a board member of the East Bay Chapter of the Financial Planning Association (FPA), believes we need to rethink the idea of networking “as making friends on purpose. Don’t have an agenda when you meet someone.”5 Although you should not have an agenda, you should have a developed networking philosophy such as a list of goals and plans that you can use and follow to make all gatherings productive. Do not take for granted the opportunities you are going to have to speak with people to whom you generally might have very little access. In “How to Network at Conferences,” HubSpot says, “Having a clear goal in mind will make networking less ambiguous and lead to more effective connections.” Meeting new people, in and of itself, is a clear and legitimate goal.
So, take a few minutes to self-reflect and think about how you see and describe yourself by developing your own personal branding. One of the ways to achieve this is by coming up with your elevator pitch. You have an identity, a story, core values and passions. Combine that with a strong understanding of your company’s products, your skills, general trends in AML and financial crimes compliance and you will be the most interesting person in the room.
In addition, Kiyomi Deards, at the University of Nebraska, suggests that introverts can “treat receptions (and) conferences as part of work. Seeing things as business instead of personal can take some of the pressure off of social gatherings.”6 Another practical strategy can be to set up time management goals. If you are feeling overwhelmed and are not engaging with fellow attendees, do what is best for you to reenergize and rejoin the party. For instance, you can network and stay active for 30, 60, or 90 minutes. You can then reward yourself after each successful time block with a break away from the event.
There is a saying: “Plan the work; work the plan.” Below are questions you can ask yourself before an event to help you walk in with confidence and purpose.
- What type of ACAMS event is it? National? Local?
- How long will you be at the event? Days?
- Who and what types of professionals will be attending?
- Is there an attendees’ list?
- If it is a national event, go over the different sessions and highlight which ones you will be going to. You can use the sessions as topics of conversation and places to meet attendees with similar interests.
- Reach out to everyone in your LinkedIn network and mention you are going.
- Is there a speakers’ list? Reach out to the speakers and introduce yourself through a personal message.
- Use LinkedIn to research backgrounds and get a better idea of who you will be meeting both in general and in particular.
- Use the conference hashtag on Twitter and follow your fellow attendees who are commenting. For instance, you can create a new stream that monitors the hashtag that promotes the event.7 You can also download the conference’s app and set up times to meet other attendees via the app.
- Find the conference’s Facebook page. You can choose whether you want to let the community know you are attending.
- Make a list of attendees and speakers you want to meet and introduce yourself to. This is very helpful for people who are attending an event for the first time, and for vendors and veterans.
- Have a list of questions. Great questions lead to great conversations and genuine interest sustains momentum and decreases the possibility of conversations fizzling out quickly. You can memorize certain questions that help with starting conversations. But keep a list of questions on you for further reference.8
- How will you dress? If you are ever in doubt, overdress because most first impressions are made visually. Focus on the aspects of your appearance that you have control over; for example, grooming, ironing and pressing shirts, pants and dresses.
When You are There
What to Always Keep in Mind
After preparing and determining your intentions and purpose, the most important thing is to listen. Listening actively and with true interest are the best skills of a master networker. Unfortunately, there is a false belief that networking means gathering the most business cards and focusing on how you can get the most out of the event. However, this should not be the case, at all. Nkrumah Pierre, director of business development at EisnerAmper and its Friends of the Firm Program, says: “Think about networking as how can I add value versus what’s in it for me. I’d argue that 85 percent of people think about networking as an opportunity to purely benefit themselves, whether it be getting the business card from an executive so they can close their next big deal, or getting in front of an HR exec so they can be considered for the next big role at a new organization. But if more people tried to add value first, and ask for something second, networking would be much more enjoyable and beneficial to most.” You will see the immediate benefits of listening and valuing others’ thoughts, words and information as you practice the art of networking. You are ultimately seeking trust and credibility, and people value conversations with others that truly are engaged. You should always be mindful of how much and how well you are listening and the value you are adding to each conversation you encounter.
What do I do before I arrive?
Make sure you have everything you need to function as though you will be out all day. Most ACAMS events, especially the national ones, serve food and refreshments on regular cycles. But, to be extra careful, have an extra bottle of water or a refreshing beverage for those moments when your mouth becomes dry. And, because you will be speaking so much, it is inevitable that will happen! National conferences have exhibit halls with vendors who typically provide breath fresheners. But, again, have your own just in case you need to use one during a conversation. Riccobuono—of the FPA—even suggests eating before the networking hour begins. Although events provide food and refreshments, “you want your hands free.” The extra mobility and nimbleness will give you more time to mingle.
A notepad and pen or pencil are also important items to have with you. You will be meeting many people at these events, and note taking will take some of the pressure off having to remember all your conversations. You can also use the notepad to keep all the questions you prepared beforehand. Feel free to use mobile devices, as well. Note-taking applications on your phone or tablet are all suitable tools to use and have handy.
How do I initiate conversation?
Starting a conversation, especially the first one, is difficult. Here are some tips:
- Meryl Lutsky, former chief of the Money Laundering Investigations Unit at the New York State Attorney General’s office, emphasizes that comfort is key. Never start by asking someone what their title is or what they do. As Lutsky says, “Be mindful of others’ possible discomfort, too, at events.” People do not want to feel like they are being sized up from the beginning. Remember, you have something in common with your fellow attendees: You are at an ACAMS event because you already have a shared interest! One good strategy is to start your initial conversations with questions in context, that are neutral and refer to the event. For example, how are you enjoying the event, so far? What are you looking most forward to? Try to keep your eyes on the people you are speaking to after checking their lanyard. But remember not to stare at their nametags and lanyards.
- You could, if possible, start your first conversation with someone you know, so you can get into the rhythm of having discussions.
- If you are attending an event for the first time and do not know anyone, you can grab an empty table in the exhibit hall that people use for eating and drinking. People, while looking for a table to place their drinks and food, will come to you, which will give you a fantastic opportunity to introduce yourself.
- Although intimidating, approaching groups both small and large is worthwhile because it can lead to a catalyst effect. You can first approach one person in the group and introduce yourself. Eventually, that person will introduce you to the rest of the group.
- The simplest ideas can sometimes be the best. For example, you can walk up to people who are not currently engaged in conversation and introduce yourself.
Introversion comes in many forms and manifests in many degrees, but it does not have to be an obstacle to networking with new people. One practical trick is to show up early, which might make it easier to introduce yourself to newcomers.9
If you believe your introversion is prohibiting you from taking advantage of events, “adopt an extrovert.”10 If possible, you can take it one step further and adopt a small team to help you with starting conversations. Teaming up with someone who can open up conversations will give you an opportunity to add and continue the dialogue.11 Be aware, however, if your experience and activities at the events are becoming too dependent on the person or people you are with. Remember that you have your plan to stick to.
Introverts can be great contributors and beneficiaries of networking events
Another strategy to keep you inspired is to compete with yourself and choose the number of people you will introduce yourself to within a time block, day or event as a whole. Creating a game and challenge could possibly be a good motivator for happily and proactively initiating conversations. Studies have shown that introverts have certain innate and natural qualities that not only make them good leaders, but also make them ideal for entrepreneurial success. In his article, “Four Reasons Introverts Make Some of the Best Entrepreneurs,” Peter Daisyme states that, “many introverts are naturally good listeners and prefer to observe first before chiming in. When they do speak, it is often thoughtful and contributes to a conversation rather than just filling empty air.”12 Introverts can be great contributors and beneficiaries of networking events.
The Days After
There is only one activity to do after an event ends: follow up, follow up, follow up
There is only one activity to do after an event ends: follow up, follow up, follow up. True relationships take time to evolve and mature. The best starting points are sending LinkedIn invitations with tailored notes and, if possible, a tailored thank you letter to their work or personal email. Timing is important, and you should connect with your new contacts as soon as you can. You want to maintain the inertia of the original meeting and proceed to developing the next stage of the relationship. Be sure to remind everyone you are following up with who you are, how you met, and provide a snippet of your conversation(s). You will be meeting many people at these events, and HubSpot’s great advice on how to remember individuals is to make notes on business cards and record information that will help in the follow-up messages you will be sending. If you cannot fit the information on business cards, use your notepad or phone.
Continuously adding value and being a source of information and communication to your current, new and future contacts make subsequent networking events easier to prepare for and navigate. For instance, you can:
- Share articles and news about the industry with your LinkedIn, Facebook and/or Twitter contacts.
- Continue to have relevant and informative conversations directly or with groups of contacts you met.
- Reach out to your contacts to see how they are doing personally. Remember a daughter’s birthday coming up or a sports game someone was going to? Ask how they went.
Fortunately, we can learn how to network better. Even people who seem to work rooms so easily and with grace (and almost with a genetic predisposition for it) learn new ways of making the most out of each opportunity to meet new people or to reengage with acquaintances. Your starting point on your journey in 2018 to become a better networker is to reconsider your perceptions and views on networking as an activity. You have discovered that networking is the practice of beginning and cultivating relationships. And cultivating relationships leads to what Wild calls “executive presence.” The benefits of relationships are enormous to our lives, growth and happiness. After completing a 75-year study, Harvard Professor Robert Waldinger said: “The good life is built with good relationships.”13 In addition, Pierre, who also runs a professional branding firm, says: “Networking is like a relationship bank account: in order to make a withdrawal of any amount, you need to make consistent and significant deposits! Make a lot of deposits and few withdrawals along the way, and in the end, you will see how your influence and relationships improve exponentially.” Withdrawals and deposits, in this case, refer to the types of value that we provide to one another on a consistent basis. This is not referring to “back scratching” or doing favors for one another. Value can come in the form of communication, sharing advice and guidance, and making introductions to other peers within the community.
There is a good chance that at the end or beginning of the year you will create your list of New Year’s resolutions that will make 2018 the best year of your life. But for the sake of your career, do not add “become a better networker” to your list. Your New Year’s resolution (and everyday resolution, as matter of fact) should be: “Become the best BSA/AML, financial crimes and compliance professional you know you can be.” With your resolve to develop and your belief in the importance of building relationships within your professional community, you will jump at every chance to attend as many local ACAMS chapter and national events as you possibly can. You will see this as a benefit to not only yourself, but also to your fellow AML professionals, the community and the profession. As Chrisos says: “[We]shouldn’t be overwhelmed or intimidated at the prospect of networking. At the end of the day, it’s just building strong professional relationships. People will find that we have a growing community of like-minded professionals who are all striving to safeguard our financial system from illicit activities.” So, to sum it all up: Jump in with purpose, passion, desire to help others and you will be a vital member of the anti-financial crimes community.
- Tiziana Casciaro, Francesca Gino, Maryam Kouchaki, “Learn to Love Networking,” Harvard Business Review, May 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/05/learn-to-love-networking
- Jeffrey M. Pollack, William R. Forster, Paul D. Johnson, Anthony Coy and Daniel C. Molden, “Promotion- and Prevention-Focused Networking and Its Consequences for Entrepreneurial Success,” Social Psychology and Personality Science, 2015, https://www.psychology.northwestern.edu/documents/faculty-publications/molden-%20rf%20and%20entrepreneurial%20networks.pdf. Regulatory focus is a term the authors use to define networking behavior. In their words regulatory focus is defined as: “differences in people’s motivations for promotion or prevention.” There are many articles about networking ability and behavior from many different fields of research, such as social psychology, business and psychiatry. I believe that our innate psychology might give us a predisposition to how we view networking. However, the purpose of this article is to emphasize everyone’s ability to change perspectives, practice techniques and styles, and learn to understand the importance of building one’s group of contact’s deliberately and with purpose. I do not, in anyway, want to imply there is a “networking gene.”
- Teresa Riccobuono, “Successful Networking for Introverts,” Advisor Perspectives, 2016, http://www.docshok.com/uploads/successful-networking-for-introverts1465363231.pdf
- Diana Urban, Lauren Fitzgerald and Ben Ratner, “How to Network at Conferences…Without Being Awkward: The Ultimate Guide to Conference Domination (i.e., Not Standing in a Corner Awkwardly),” HubSpot, https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hub/146726/file-205975508-pdf/How-To-Network-At-Conferences.pdf
- Teresa Riccobuono, “Successful Networking for Introverts,” Advisor Perspectives, 2016, http://www.docshok.com/uploads/successful-networking-for-introverts1465363231.pdf
- Morra Aarons-Mele, “Can’t Stand Cocktail Parties? Adopt an Extrovert,” Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert’s Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You’d Rather State Home (Adapted by Quiet Revolution), 2017, https://www.quietrev.com/cant-stand-cocktail-parties-adopt-extrovert/
- Peter Daisyme, “Four Reasons Introverts Make Some Of The Best Entrepreneurs,” fastcompany.com, 2015, https://www.fastcompany.com/3044782/4-reasons-introverts-make-some-of-the-best-entrepreneurs
- Marguerite Ward, “75-year Harvard Study Reveals the Key to Success in 2017 and Beyond,” 2016, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2016/12/15/75-year-harvard-study-reveals-the-key-to-success-in-2017-and-beyond.html