How to Broaden Your Professional Network in Taiwan?

Finding work or starting a business in Taiwan is challenging, and to succeed you need all the guanxi (關係) that you can get. You need access to people who have done it before, can highlight pitfalls and obstacles, and are willing to offer a little friendly advice. This is what creating good connections, or guanxi, is all about.

Below is a culmination of tips on how to take the first steps toward building a network of connections, both international and local, that will impact you professionally and personally. Finding the right network is crucial for your career in Taiwan, and we hope that this article will aid you on your journey to broadening your professional network.

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Be honest about what outcomes you want to achieve long term, and be clear and upfront about your goals for networking.

Whether you are seeking internships, mentors, business advice, visa advice, potential business prospects, or a new career, it’s best to be direct about your intentions from the start. Be honest with yourself first, so you can be sincere to those in your network.

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Your time is finite, and so is the time of people you connect with. Networking requires time, effort, and planning, so try to identify the 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 your network in terms of relevant quality is better than growing it in terms of random quantity.

For instance, as a job seeker, identify the companies that you would like to work for, that align with your values, and where you can see yourself growing professionally. 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.

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LinkedIn is one of the most important social media platforms for professionals in Taiwan, especially 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. Conversely, on LinkedIn, adding connections of interest who you have had no previous contact with is permissible.

Being active on the platform is paramount to expanding your professional network in an efficient and organized manner. Make sure that your LinkedIn profile is complete and professional. Try referring to 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. 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. Search for relevant professional groups and keep an eye out for online and offline events.

Next, you can invite connections with a short note like this:

‘Hi XXXX, thanks for the connection, I am looking for XXXX and was wondering if I could ask for a moment of your time to discuss XXXX.’

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When you have established the connection and the conversation is flowing online, try to organize an in-person coffee, or at least an online chat. For good guanxi, it is important to seem like a genuine human being, so aim to have a conversation in person so that you can create a good impression.

Message the contact to see where is convenient for them, and whether they recommend any cafe or restaurant nearby. Be clear to yourself and the other person about the goal of the meeting. Make sure you do not waste the other person’s time for your own benefit. Good professional networks are small and bad reputations spread fast.

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There are no special techniques to professional networking that you can’t learn or draw from every day socializing. Some people feel that in order to seem professionally attractive, they must present an idealized version of themselves. However, this may backfire and make you seem disingenuous and projecting a fake image. Do not try to be something you are not. Relax and actively listen to whoever you are connecting with. Not only is this an easier way to communicate, but it also maximizes your chances of discovering genuine alignment and connection.

Note that networking does not work well when you directly ask your connections for a job or help. 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 being too pushy, or even worse, obviously treating that person as a means to an end.

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. 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.

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.

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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. Don’t give the impression that you are going to discard a connection once you have taken what you need at the time.

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.

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.

The next step is to get yourself out there.

Written by Daniel Miller, co-founder of All Hands Taiwan and Taiwan Manager for Pagoda Projects.