Dr Tracy Bussoli, Careers Consultant, explains how the unwritten assumptions and rules of networking in the UK differ from those in China – and how to navigate this!
“Cultural differences between the UK and China can make networking more challenging because the rules of behaviour are different. China is a high context country, which means that communication is often non-verbal and implied. In contrast, the UK, America, and Germany are low context cultures, which means that they rely directly on clear verbal communication.
This might sound confusing and difficult, so we’ve set out some ground rules for networking in the UK as a Chinese student.
If you’re not sure what we mean by networking, don’t worry! We’ve got a lot of information on our KEATS pages about what networking is, and how it can help you develop your career planning, so you can read this first.
- Who can I connect with on LinkedIn?
In the UK and America, relationships can begin and end quite quickly. You do not need to have known someone for a long time to reach out to people and someone’s identity is based on themselves and their accomplishments. It is, therefore, not unusual to reach out to a range of people on LinkedIn, ranging from close connections to those you do not know.
Think about who you would like to connect with on LinkedIn. Being connected to people in relevant sectors is one of the ways that increase the likelihood of you being found by recruiters. When you attend careers or other networking events, reach out to people on LinkedIn following the event, starting with those you have met. Remind them briefly about your conversation e.g.
“It was interesting to talk about your work in China at the International Marketing Conference. It would be great to connect.”
The logistics of how to connect can be found on jobscan.
- How do I reach out to people I do not know on LinkedIn?
When you connect with someone that you do not know it is important to write a personalised note on LinkedIn. Otherwise, they will wonder who you are and why you are connecting. In the ‘add a note’ message which pops up after you try to connect, include, what you have in common e.g.
“I notice that we both studied for an MSc in International Marketing at KCL.”
OR comment on something they are doing/posting that interests you e.g.
“I am keen to follow your regular posts on the latest trends in international marketing.”
People will not always agree to connect. Everyone will have their own ideas and values about who they connect with. However, personalising your connection request can help in building connections.
If someone doesn’t accept your invitation to connect, don’t worry. We’ve alltried to connect with people who haven’t accepted it, so there’s no need to feel embarassed.
- Is it appropriate to speak to people at careers events e.g. after they have given a presentation? If so, how do I do this?
Yes. Speakers often attend such events to give advice and information about their company and share their own experience. It is, therefore, appropriate to approach speakers after they have given a talk. You will see lots of people doing this so you may need to join the queue and keep your interactions short! Comment on an interesting aspect of the talk and ask a question about their presentation. Ask if it would be OK to connect on LinkedIn and make sure that you connect as soon as possible. In your connection request, comment or compliment the speaker about a part of their talk.
The actual conversations with speakers might be different in the UK and in China. In high -context countries, such as China, non-verbal elements such as tone of voice and facial gestures may be more important than in low-context countries, such as the UK. Also, it is less likely to be personal if someone disagrees with you in the UK. Disagreements can be part of a productive conversation.
- Who else can I approach at networking events?
If you are circulating in a crowded room, you will need to choose who you speak to. If you can, research before to find out who is going. You can then make a list of people you want to speak to. such as those from a company you like, or whose job sounds interesting.
You can also be more spontaneous in your approach and speak to people more randomly! You never know where a conversation and connection can lead!
In the UK, people tend to value their personal space and may stand further apart than in cultures where space is more communal. Try and read body language to see if you can join a conversation. For example, if everyone is grouped together with no opening in the circle, then it might not be the best group to join for a chat, but if there is a gap or space in the circle, then people may be unconsciously inviting you in.
Top tip: look for individuals to talk to if you feel intimidated by larger groups!
- What should I say as an opening line?
It is useful to have a few opening lines for starting conversations. Start off with a question as this will encourage the other person to talk to you! You can start with some safe bets such as,
“What has brought you here today?”
“The talks have been interesting today. Have you enjoyed any in particular?”
“What a great venue. Have you been here before?”
In order to help you with your questions, it is a good idea to do some research on the people attending, ahead of networking events. Where have they worked? What is their specialist area etc. This is normal and, if it is accessible on the internet, it will not be unusual if you mention what you have found in your conversations. The sorts of questions that are appropriate to ask are;
- “I notice from your LinkedIn profile that you worked at PWC. What was it like working for one of the big four?”
- “I notice that you are an expert in branding. What campaigns have you most enjoyed working on?”
Try to steer clear of personal, political and religious views sticking to professional discussions.
- And finally, should I follow-up and how do I do this?
Yes, you should always follow up. You might kick yourself later, if you don’t. Make a note of people’s names. Ask for their business card, email address or ask if you can connect on LinkedIn. Then follow-up with a brief reminder of who you are and a thank you such as;
“It was great to meet you at the marketing event and thanks for the interesting conversation about branding. It would be good stay in contact.”
If you’ve got any other top tips, or personal experiences, share them in the comments section below – we’d love to hear from you! We host a huge range of networking events for international students over the year – check out King’s CareerConnect for upcoming events. Don’t forget to read our comprehensive information for Chinese students to find out more about the support we offer!