Networking in the American Culture: It’s Less About Who You Know…

The topic of networking frequently appears in training and career development materials for international students. Mainstream advice and tips encourage students to attend networking events, request informational interviews, and to connect with alumni and many others in professional networking platforms such as LinkedIn. However, they are not working as magically as we had hoped.

Many of us are successful in increasing LinkedIn connections. However, the majority fail to leverage these connections to achieve meaningful engagement, and not to mention tangible career outcome. We may be proudly counting a big stack of business cards after a networking event, but we rarely hear from them nor meet these people again.

Ask yourself this: What’s the problem?

The problem is that you think of networking as “who you know.” The essence of American networking, however, is much beyond that.  

It’s less about who you know than who knows you.

There are two simple parameters to measure your network: how many do you know and how many know you. When both have substantial numbers, they compliment each other for a bigger impact; however, if one is considerably less than the other, it will hurdle the effectiveness of your network.

If your goal is only to know many people, you will only be in a position as a pursuer for a job position, a collaboration opportunity, a grant, or an award. If the number of people who know you grows steadily and surpasses how many people you know, you will gradually transition to be a pursuee. With such, you will be contacted by the headhunter, invited to premium events, offered distinguished awards; and, ultimately be recognized for professional credibility and reputation.  

Steve Martin gave one tip about how he became a renowned comedian, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Georgetown University professor, Cal Newport, borrowed this line for his book title “So Good that They Can’t Ignore You.” In his book, Newport reminded us of the etymology of the word “remarkable,” “re-mark-able” as “worth being talked about.”

What Skills, Knowledge, Information, and Network (SKIN) do you possess that are worth being talked about? You may not have the answer now because you are yet to graduate and to start your career, but it is not too early to ask the question and start building on your unique SKIN profile to become “so good they can’t ignore you.”

Before our world became highly connected with the internet, being extremely good was enough. Words spread in a more personal way through an almost invisible network. Promotion of your work was often done in the same way, more intensively but less extensively. Virtual space has expanded our network to an unprecedented extent. While we enjoy the convenience of connecting with anyone simultaneously at our fingertip, our ability to discover and remember has been victimized by the overflow of information.

This requires you to be more proactive in becoming visible, noticeable, and ultimately remarkable. Your professional presence on social media is your spokesman for your unique skills, knowledge, information, and network (SKIN). Being known in your network for a particular domain or skills can open doors and lead you on to the right path towards the best suitable jobs or career opportunities.

Networking is a common concept in all cultures, however with rich cultural adaptations. For example, in China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and many other countries, networking is often not about who you know, but who your parents know and who your whole family knows. Differed concepts of networking reflect on fundamental cultural differences. As individuals who engage professionally across country borders, international students must be aware of networking essentials and techniques in multiple cultures and become able to adjust the approach and the style as appropriate.  

About Di Hu

Co-founder and principal coach at interEDGE.org, an initiative of DrEducation, to offer online training solutions to institutions to support academic and career success of international students. Follow her on @CoachDiHu

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