Networking Basics: How to Broaden Your Professional Network in Taiwan
Updated: Jan 2, 2022
Want to know how to get started networking in Taiwan (or anywhere, really)? Then have a look at these useful tips from Daniel Miller, who started out in Taiwan as an English teacher, before becoming the branch manager for an overseas British company.
Finding work or starting a business in Taiwan is challenging, and to succeed you need all the guanxi (關係) you can get. You need access to people who have done it before, can highlight pitfalls and roadblocks, and are, in general, willing to offer a little friendly advice – this is what creating good connections, or guanxi , is all about. Through our work at All Hands Taiwan, we understand firsthand just how crucial networking is to one’s career in Taiwan. With the ultimate aim of being the most valuable peer-to-peer professional resource network, we organise regular events for professionals, foreign and Taiwanese, to impact their careers through community. This article is a little culmination of what I’ve observed in my time here. I aim to give a few pointers on how to take the first steps toward building a network of connections that will impact you professionally and even personally.
Tip 1: Be honest about your intentions
First, be honest with yourself about what long-term outcomes you want to achieve. Being clear about your goal may seem painfully obvious, but I have personally met plenty of people at events who do not have a focus on networking, they either just want to be in proximity to professionals and opportunities and ‘see what’s out there and feel the professional landscape’ or feel they ‘should probably do some networking.’ Of course, this is great if you enjoy meeting strangers and have the time to do so, but maybe a bar is a better setting if you’re just seeking casual socializing. This may sound a little harsh, but the majority of people at networking events have a special interest or a purpose.
By way of example, when I first arrived in Taiwan as a fresh graduate, I wanted to get a job in international relations, thus I identified Chamber or diplomatic events as a good place to start. I would casually bring up my intention during an initial introduction ‘…oh by the way, do you happen to know anyone who would know more about graduate opportunities, especially ones that offer a work permit for foreign nationals like me?’ Although I didn’t get a job, I was immediately signposted by those I met to their colleagues and connections who hadn’t attended said events. This is a trial and error process, so fully expect events and people to not be directly relevant, but give it time and you will be shown a way. Whether you are seeking internships, mentors, business advice, visa advice, potential business prospects, or a new career or job, it’s best to be direct about your intentions from the start. Be honest with yourself first, in order to be better able to be sincere.
Tip 2: Build a short list of the types of people you would like to meet
Your time is finite, and so is the time of people you connect with. To motivate yourself to network requires a long-term plan. Reverse engineer from your desired outcomes professionally and socially, and identify the people that will help you along the way. Identify types of people you would like to focus your networking on. (Think about potential hiring managers, specific VC’s, other senior leaders or experts in your desired field.) Growing the relevant quality of your network is better than random quantity. For instance, as a job seeker, identify the companies you would like to work for, that align with your values, and where you can see yourself growing professionally. Or you may want advice from certain founders or CEOs. Identify these companies and leaders first and do your research. Take a look at job postings on job boards (or even Facebook) and start cross-referencing HR staff on LinkedIn, if you’d like to directly enquire about relevant opportunities. The All Hands Taiwan website has a job board that is free for job seekers. Ideally, from the resources available online, you will be able to note at the very least 20-30 companies or names of professionals who are of interest.
Tip 3: Actually use LinkedIn (alongside Facebook)
In my humble opinion, LinkedIn is the most important social media platform for professionals in Taiwan, even more so for those new to Taiwan. In addition, although professional communities and networks thrive on Facebook – it is not recommended to approach contacts of interest on Facebook; we are all a bit guarded against strangers there. But on LinkedIn, adding connections of interest whom you have had no previous contact with is permissible, so be street smart, cross-reference names and Groups on LinkedIn, and approach connections that way. Being active on the platform is paramount to expanding your professional network in an efficient and organised manner. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is 100 percent complete and professional. A good way of knowing what’s good is by looking at the profiles of the people you are interested in – this will make you think critically about the first impressions you are projecting, and whether your profile represents you in an accurate and professional manner. For the purposes of compiling a shortlist, use the ‘Connections’ button and click ‘search with filters’ – this is the most important function you can use. For example, if you are looking to start a business, search for Founders and CEOs in your desired industry, who work in fields and areas closely related to yours. On the other hand, as a job seeker you can search for the profiles of hiring managers at the companies you are interested in. Play around with the filters and narrow down your short list. Search for relevant professional groups, too, and keep an eye out for online and offline events. Now it’s time to invite connections and add a short, sweet note like this: ‘Hi XXXX, thanks for the connection, I am looking for YYYY and was wondering if I could ask for a moment of your time to discuss ZZZZ.’ Actually, LinkedIn is the only social media platform I know that actively encourages you to stalk people of interest, so use this to your advantage.
Tip 4: Make time for a quick coffee
Once the conversation is flowing online, it will be in your favour to organise a face-to-face coffee, or at the very least, an online chat. For the latter, having a Calendly account is extremely useful for professionals to book your time, and to have reminders synced with your calendar. I recommend having a preliminary chat online to be efficient with time. For good guanxi, it is important to, well, seem like a genuine human being. Please aim to have a conversation in person. Message the contact to see where is convenient for them, and whether they recommend any cafe or restaurant nearby. Going back to the previous steps, be clear to yourself and the other person why this chat is happening. If it’s a general request or you’d like to gain a mentor, humbly ask for advice. Make sure you are not wasting the other person’s time for your own benefit. Again, good professional networks are small and bad reputations spread fast.
Tip 5: Ask nicely, and listen
I learnt the hard way that there are no special techniques to professional networking that you can’t learn or draw from socialising every day. As a fresh graduate I believed I had to present an idealised version of myself and make myself as professionally attractive as possible. Unless you are a good actor, you come off as disingenuous and projecting a fake image that you want everyone else to see. In the beginning, I hated networking as I hated pretending. Instead, loosen yourself up, relax, and actively listen to whoever you are connecting with. Not only is this an easier way to communicate, this maximises your chances of discovering genuine alignment and connection, which may ignite a more enthusiastic conversation. Conversely, if you find a conversation boring, don’t feel obliged to feign enthusiasm, you are not doing any favours by wasting people’s time. Networking does not work well when you ask your connections for a job, or when you directly ask for help. The distinction here lies in stating your intention for a meeting is quite different from asking for something that you’re unsure that connection can give. Being too direct may come off as you being too pushy, or even worse, obviously treating that person as a means to an end.This is key as a good professional impression of yourself should not be of desperation, but of someone who genuinely wants to engage as a human being, and also is keen to offer rather than just take. To that end, if you have some skill or resource that might be of value to them, it never hurts to offer something in return, this way you are extending an exchange of value, even if that person declines your offer. In other words, watch the words you use when you ask for something. Try asking whether they know of resources or people that may be able to help, or relate and ask whether they have experienced your current challenges. Make it a dialogue and ask for their opinion and advice, instead of requesting that they help.
Tip 6: Follow up and play the long game
If I were asked for a metaphor of what successful networking looked like, I’d say aim to be a spider in the middle of a web. As bilingual networks are closely knit in Taiwan, you can expect to grow your network relatively fast and, with these genuine connections, you will be in a position to hear about opportunities surprisingly quickly. The only way to maintain a connection is by following up. If you are struggling with conversation, focus on referencing a specific topic from your conversation before and offer help and advice. The best professional connections are made by being nice, offering something in return and not asking for too much. In sum, don’t give the impression that you are going to discard a connection once you have taken what you need at the time. Again, don’t just collect connections and then look them up when you really need something. Like any relationship, professional connections need care and attention, or the relationship will simply wither and die. It is rare that you immediately gain something from meeting people for the first time, so manage your expectations. Time needs to be spent fostering relationships for the long term, not just for your most immediate need or crisis.
Tip 7: Ask your new connections for advice on how to expand your professional network
Remember, whoever you meet out there professionally, don’t forget to ask their advice on what connections may be useful, what events are out there, etc. To point you in the right direction in terms of events, at All Hands Taiwan, we have a handy list of resources and links to get you started, and a dedicated blog that introduces some of the top networking events in our community. Our next article will outline some useful groups and events by industry, and professional interest. The next step is to get yourself out there.
This article was authorized by the Taiwan Employment Gold Card Office and is a joint cooperation between the Taiwan Employment Gold Card Office and All Hands Taiwan. The original article is published at https://goldcard.nat.gov.tw. Daniel Miller is the co-founder of All Hands Taiwan as well as the Taiwan Manager for Pagoda Projects. Feel free to reach out to Daniel via LinkedIn.