8 things China taught me about networking

Lu-Hai Liang explains what he's learnt about this important career skill while working in Beijing

A few months ago, journalist and recent graduate Lu-Hai Liang packed his bags and flew to China. He had no job waiting for him, but felt confident that the world's fastest-growing economy would have plenty to offer - if he could get in touch with the right people. Here's what his experience in China has taught him about how to network - anywhere in the world.

1.Get yourself into a position to network

I came to China to seek out new opportunities, especially in journalism. When an internship at a listings magazine similar to Time Out turned up, I jumped at the chance. I knew that working for a publication where part of the job was attending events, talks, gigs, gallery openings and suchlike could lead to other things. So I volunteered to cover as many events as I could. My hope was that not only would I seem eager to my editors, but even if the internship didn't lead to a full-time position, I would at least have made as many relevant connections as possible.

2. Every person is a potentially helpful contact, however junior

At a talk I attended I got talking with another journalist. She mentioned there were openings at the newspaper she worked at. I made sure to follow up by emailing her and, eventually, this led to an interview at one of China's national newspapers. Schmoozing a top executive might seem the best way of rising to the top, but instead of focusing on people above you (vertical connections), it's often more productive to concentrate on people at around the same level as you (horizontal connections).

3. Networking is a bit like seduction

The principles are the same: open, attract and close, except that with networking closing means contact details are all you swap. Say you're at a networking event. First, you need to open up a conversation. Then demonstrate higher value, perhaps by talking about an intriguing skill you have, or even an interesting hobby. Next, build rapport and establish an emotional connection with your target. Talk about common interests, or laugh and complain about the same things. You want to be memorable. Finally, arrange a meeting or exchange numbers.

4. Business cards are currency

Giving and receiving these is the most efficient way of exchanging contact details. In China, there's a certain ritual in this routine. You're expected to both offer and take a business card with both hands (and even proffer a little bow if someone is particularly revered), and then to closely examine the card you receive before stowing it somewhere nicely, rather than shoving it in your back pocket. Collecting a sizeable number of these cards in a business card binder for easy reference gives you a quick and manageable way of finding useful people.

5. Your instincts are usually right

One thing I've noticed when approaching people at events in China is that if I think a person looks interesting or relevant, my hunch is usually right. Your subconscious mind picks up a lot more than your conscious mind, so if you find your gaze lingering longer on one person, don't ask why, just approach and say "hello". You have nothing to lose.

6. Cultivate all connections, however tenuously linked to your career

In Chinese culture there is a concept called "guangxi". Its meaning is hard to translate, but the essential idea is that you should create and develop connections of all kinds throughout life. Here in Beijing, people I hardly know have offered to ask their relatives or friends to inquire about possibilities for me. They follow up on these courtesies as they know cultivating relationships strengthens their own standing. It's taught me that networking doesn't just mean gaining business contacts - it's also about building a social web.

7. Use LinkedIn properly

Facebook and Twitter are banned in China, so I've spent a lot of time with the only western networking site available to me: LinkedIn. It's a phenomenal tool. I send internal messages on the site, introducing myself and asking for advice or even proposing meet-ups. I've even had lunch with one of The Guardian's China correspondents this way. Two tips: adding people with a lot of connections will instantly open up hundreds of profiles without having to pay for the "premium" service. And when you want to add someone you don't know, select the "Friend" option on the form, but make sure you include a note about why you're adding them.

8. Be genuine and humble

Smile when you walk into a room. Be warm and open. Show a genuine inquisitiveness in people. And never brag - doing so only shows weakness. In China humility is paramount, so it's best to be self-effacing - it's much more endearing here, and in most other places too.

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