More than half of all employment opportunities are found through networking and the best time to build your network is before you need it. In cities like Shanghai and Beijing, there are plenty of opportunities for networking and building your own database of relevant contacts.
Commit to going 'out of the building' to attend daytime and evening events and focus on seeking information and advice as opposed to favors.
In China, exchanging business cards when you meet someone for the first time is a must, no matter if you are in a professional or personal setting. There is an etiquette to introducing yourself and handing your business card which you will quickly pick up. Here are my quick tips for newcomers:
- Make sure your business cards are bilingual English-Chinese
- You will need a Chinese name to print on the card. In general, there are two approaches you can take: a literal, similar-sounding translation of your name, or a more creative name which sounds different but has more meaning. For this, you will have to enlist the help of a trusted Chinese friend or colleague. Once you have a name, it is important that you know how to pronounce it well, because your Chinese counterparts will almost surely make a comment about it, and if there is a special meaning, then prepare a brief explanation of where it comes from and why you decided on these particular Chinese characters. This small talk at the beginning can be a great conversation starter and help build an immediate connection.
- An obvious point, but do not overlook it (many people do): memorize the pronunciation of your company's Chinese name. You do not want to give them a blank stare if and when they mention your company in Chinese in conversation.
- Have your business cards in a handy place (inside coat pocket for men, for example) when you enter the room, so that as soon as you start shaking hands you can pull them out confidently, without fumbling. You will want to exchange cards right away, as opposed to waiting for later or the end when you're leaving.
- When you hand out cards, be sure to hold them with both hands, give them out one by one (not like a blackjack dealer), and with your name facing the person you are handing it to, so he or she can easily read it.
There is a relatively new trend in China today which is impacting on the world of networking, both socially and professionaly: it's called WeChat (or Weixin, in Chinese). More and more, you'll find yourself at conferences and social events and counterparts will ask to connect with you on WeChat. No need to be put off or hesitate. This is actually a terrific way to build up your network quickly and efficiently, and then easily stay in touch. All you have to do is download the app to your smart phone and set yourself up with an account (using your mobile number, both Chinese and international are fine). It takes 5 minutes. Then, when you meet someone, you can ask them for their number/username to connect, or scan a personalized bar code and connect instantly. Do not be shy to ask Chinese up front to connect on WeChat, since it's becoming common currency, and chances are they will be impressed with your knowledge of local customs.
Here are some more general networking tips for your China networking plan:
- The people you know can be wonderful sources of information and leads. Make a list of all of your contacts and reach out to them. Your list can include past employers, vendors, customers, colleagues, competitors, bankers, friends, relatives, parents of children’s friends, club members, cousins, neighbors, etc.
- Research and attend networking events hosted by professional organizations or chambers of commerce. Even better, volunteer on a committee in your area of professional interest. You will be pleasantly surprised how quickly your network will grow.
- Contact your alumni groups. Your college or university should have an alumni association with a directory of members. Research and reach out to contacts in your field, even if they didn’t graduate in the same year as you.
- Attend conventions or events in your industry. Although you may have to pay to attend, it will be worth it because you will get valuable exposure.
- Remember to maintain contact every three months with those who have contributed to your learning and development.
Lastly, while in-person networking is preferable in some ways, make sure you to build your presence in online communities such as LinkedIn, an alumni site, or your trade association’s website.