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At some stage in a person’s professional life, they will come upon the realisation that who you know is as important as what you know. If you’re a foreigner in China looking to get into professional work, where do you start? More importantly, how do you go about networking like a pro?

Not long ago, I was at a social event hosted by AustCham Beijing. Many important members were present, including ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank, NAB, Telstra, E&Y and KPMG. Every different organisation has a different culture. Networking is not only important for opening doors in your professional career; it is also a window of opportunity for young individuals to find out where they belong. Genuine friendships and relationships can be found through networking. Think of your experience through high school; how you established relationships with your friends and how the group you belonged to affected your identity. In reality, the professional world is not so different.

If you are looking to get acquainted with motivated professionals in China, especially in cross-national organisations, the best place to start would probably be a local chamber of commerce. Below is a list of important chambers in China:

Networking groups in Beijing:

Fortune Club

Cebex

The next question is, naturally, how do you network? Some people have the talent of being able to connect with people easily. Most of us however, can only improve through constant practice. What defines networking? The dictionary definition is “the act of exchanging information with people who can help you professionally”. However, I would assert the broader idea that every relationship you have around you is your asset, and the system of relationships surrounding you is your network. On that note, I have broken down networking into the following:

  • Get into the correct mindset:
    • Rid yourself of any preconceived negative ideas you have about networking. Yes, some professionals are insincere, pretentious or even manipulative; but networking itself is not of such a nature. Most professionals are genuine people just like you and have got to where they are now through intelligent hard work, diligence and persistence. With practice, you will be able to tell the people you want to connect with apart from those you want to cursorily say hi to.
    • Throw away any self-consciousness holding you back. Remember that success is for the bold, and actions produce results. As such, you should make an active effort to get acquainted with people that are of interest to you.
    • Do not expect to get flashy results quickly. Networking is about building relationships. Think of it as a long term investment and a life skill.
  • Build your social network and your profile:
    • Present yourself well; this does not mean overdress. Dress appropriately for the occasion. On networking websites, post a professional photo. Keep records of your past partying adventures private (yes my friends, do change your Facebook privacy settings). When conversing, smile and engage others.
    • Strengthen existing connections. Get in touch with old friends, relatives, schoolmates. Know what is happening around you and take a genuine but appropriate interest in other people’s lives.
    • Pursue interests and activities that you enjoy. Understand that professionals are people before they are professionals; and sharing an interest brings people together.
    • Go to work related conferences and events. Make yourself known without being obnoxious. If you have business cards, make sure you bring them and make them useful. Otherwise, leave a good impression and a way in which you can contact your new associates (email is the social norm).
    • Find out who is who and who knows whom. The whole idea of a network is for your contacts to introduce you to more. The more people you know, the more likely you will find those you want to connect with.
  • Socialise
    • Invite people out to catch a coffee, a drink or some lunch. Make a habit of being a “people’s person”. Be generous in helping other within your capabilities. Karma applies in real life and you will be surprised how well people respond to kindness and generosity. People are social in nature and relationships are created through constant contact and communication.
    • Follow up. Do not be the 80% of individuals who create opportunities to establish relationships, but not relationships. Stay in touch with those around you through any or many of the multitudes of communication tools available to people today. As an exercise, try to remember the name, job and one interesting fact of every person you meet.
    • Do not be shy in writing things down. Just making note of a person’s birthday for example shows that you are making an effort in building a relationship with them.
  • Tap into your network
    • Do not be shy or apologetic when asking for a favour or some help. That is a signal of unprofessionalism or at the very least, a lack of confidence. You are not making demands or forcing anyone to do anything, and thus there is no need to apologise.
    • Search for people to help you in things that are not strictly professional. That is all part of a relationship. Asking someone to be your jogging partner is great practice for asking someone to recommend you for a vacant job position. That said, do not be a leech. Giving is as important as taking; although the two do not always have to be the same in nature. For example, you recommended some nice cafes to Mr A, a busy professional who happens to be a senior associate of company XYZ. You can gain information about company XYZ from him over a coffee at the café. As the relationship goes on, Mr A may inform you of an opportunity that has arisen in company XYZ.

Networking, surprise surprise, is something that we have been doing since our schooldays.  As we mature however, the way in which we go about doing so needs to become more nuanced also. As with all things, the most important thing in networking is to go out and do it. Happy networking!

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