Networking in Shanghai can be a minefield. Everyone who goes to these ubiquitous Shanghai networking events has an agenda, whether it's looking for a job or just finding someone who will listen to them bang on and on about their model airplane collection. And if you want to make the most of your time, you need to be able to identify these people before a conversation even starts. And then, once you've established guanxi, you need to know how to bail like a pro. So here it is, our guide to effective networking in Shanghai.
The Kinds of People You Meet at Networking Events
The “I just arrived two weeks ago” expat who’s excited about everything and looking to meet new people any way possible. They’re still awe-struck at The Bund view and will roast anyone they meet for the best places to eat, drink and party in Shanghai. Be polite—they’re new and are just looking for advice.
The Gold Mine
They’re very rich, very talented, very well connected and way smarter than you. They’re comfortable in their own skin and have probably dressed down for the event, because really, they don’t need to impress anyone. Alternatively, they're probably the most chicly dressed in the room. They’re at the event to “show face” and possibly hire you.
The Start-Up Team
They have a new app/website/business model that’s similar to something that’s already mature in the west. They’re dressed to impress, work in pairs of two and are looking for sponsors/investors/buyers while spreading the word of their startup’s launch. Don’t turn them down, their launching event is coming up and that means free booze and canapés.
A peek into their bag will reveal 10 CVs, a pile of business cards and a list of all the CEOs who RSVP’d to the event. You can spot them pretty fast: they’ll hang around after every conference, hoping to get five minutes alone with the speaker. Let’s just hope they remember the “hire me” speech they stayed up rehearsing the night before. Probably here on a tourist visa.
Knows everyone in the room as well the ones who couldn’t make it. "The Networker" runs the event, a million WeChat groups and probably even knows your mom. They’re dressed to impress and know everything worth going to in town. They're quick to whip out one of their phone and scan your QR code on WeChat.
The DJ/Writer/Video Producer/Event Planner/Voiceover Actor/Freelance Marketing Professional who is actually just an English Teacher
Looking to get out of teaching and into a new field—certainly not a career teacher. Life experience includes trekking through rural villages in provincial China, patience with little monsters and indexing course work. They’re at a point in life where they want to repatriate in a couple of years, but are finding it impossible to get hired in their home country. Most likely will be shocked when they learn about the salaries of entry-level jobs. Will talk about travel and anything but teaching.
The Enthusiastic College Student
This is the junior-year college student on an exchange program living with a host family in Jinqiao. They are ready to provide free labor in an attempt to improve their work experience and pad their CV. They’re the ones with bright wandering eyes, fantasizing at the idea of being in the presence of entrepreneur legends.
The Plus One
They are someone’s friend, relative or partner who is just tagging along. They're there for the free champagne and have been checking the time ever since the bartender opened the last bottle. Want to play a game? Bet on how long they last before they sneak out the bathroom window.
Regardless of which profile you fit into, there is going to be one commonality between you and everyone else at a networking event: you have a goal in mind. These are the business-like Hunger Games, no matter what—or who—your target is, you need to be prepared. Stock up on business cards, charge up your phone and practice a firm handshake. For those who always have their phone at 3%, bring a portable charger.
Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself. At networking events, attendees are there to mingle. Focus on common interests, too. Conversation will flow if you target traits or experiences you relate to. No matter the partner, lend a listening ear at all times. Go one step further and research the people you want to meet—LinkedIn can take care of that.
Wait for the conversation to die out. Once you find an opening, politely thank the other person for their time. If you are interested, add them on WeChat and hand out one of your fresh-out-the-print business cards.
While this may sound like a no-brainer, don’t leave abruptly in the middle of a conversation. More often than not, one of the conversationalists abandons the other for someone in higher ranks. Even if you spot someone who falls under the “Gold Mine” of people, don’t sacrifice your conversation for them. By the time you even get to Michelle Garnaut, she will be swarmed by 20 other thirsty players.
Women: You want to look professionally casual. Your goal is a fresh outfit without showing too much skin. A blazer is the safest option, paired with an elegant heel. Leave your skin tight garments in the closet. This a daytime event, not a late night at one of Shanghai’s clubs.
Men: Iron your button-up. Yes, people can tell the difference. Never worked an iron? Learn how to. You're an adult for Christ's sake. You could go full Mad Men with a suit or choose a “casually well-dressed” ensemble. A button up and a blazer over dark jeans will do. Dress shoes are a plus. Don't even think of wearing your trainers.
LinkedIn is probably the best medium to find a networking event suitable for you. You can join groups and organizations associated with your field and connect with them online before meeting them in person.
IPWS is a women-centric organization. Their concept is very laid-back and meant to have you form a professional bond with your mentor. You choose someone from the field you’re interested in then go out on group walks together around the meeting point. This isn’t their only networking event, but it’s an easy start.
NEC Networking Events Club (Official WeChat: networkingevents) is a networking club with weekly events and almost 2,000 members. If you join, you must be active and attend an event at least once a month. Their venues vary depending on the nature of the meeting, and the fields they cover range from fashion to entrepreneurship.
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