Networking Rules for Immigrants to Canada
As a new immigrant, you have left most of your old network behind – your friends and your relatives have stayed in your first country while you now live in Canada.
When you start looking for work in Canada, you will soon be faced with a fact that over 80% of the available jobs are not advertised – the so called ‘Hidden Job Market’ – but are found through NETWORKING.
Networking is not about making friends – it’s about making new business contacts. It is about introducing yourself, gathering information and asking smart questions. It is also about showing people that, even though you are an immigrant, you know the cultural rules and social norms of your new chosen country. Make a positive first impression by ‘playing by the rules’ – demonstrate your ‘soft skills’ and you will get a chance to get hired and use your ‘hard skills’.
How to Network in Canada
In many countries, people have very large families and most networking is done within a family. In some other countries, networking happens mostly among school and university friends. In Canada, both of these types exist as well, but – and that’s the good news for immigrants – a lot of networking happens within a professional association and your field of expertise. People attend ‘networking events’ with the goal of meeting other people who can help them find out about new job and business opportunities.
Whenever you are meeting new people, you will need to talk. As an immigrant, you need to know that there are ‘appropriate’ and ‘inappropriate’ (good and not good) conversation topics and these MIGHT BE DRASTICALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE ONES IN YOUR FIRST COUNTRY.
Let’s take a look at some of these rules now.
Everything about work/profession/job/business/company is okay to discuss. There is one thing to remember here: while networking, never ask somebody for a job directly. Also, if you need information about the salary, find it online (do not ask this question in a face-to-face conversation).
Never ask somebody “How is your health?” It’s a topic reserved for a person’s family doctor and sometimes close friends and family.
Anything you say must sound positive (everything is good, Canadian winter is no problem). Never complain about anything if you are networking and job searching – people will see you in a negative light. It’s hard to stay positive when you are unemployed but that’s what it takes to find a job.
Never ask somebody about their family status, marriage, number of children and where they live. Only if a person chooses to bring it up – chooses to tell you – then you have their permission to ask questions about their family. Never initiate these topics.
Learn to talk about what you see around you and the things you have in common. Look around, smile and say something nice about the place, the people, the food, etc. Ask general questions – nothing personal until you get that ‘permission’.
Listen very carefully. Whatever the person mentions to you about themselves is something they consider acceptable to talk about – you can then go ahead and ask them about it.
Do NOT ask about: religious beliefs, political views or money. You can discuss politics or economic situation in the country or industry – general and business topics are acceptable – but you should never ask a ‘you’ question (‘Who did you vote for? How much did you pay for your house?’ are not acceptable).
Friends vs. Contacts
Some immigrants may confuse making contacts and making friends. Networking is a business communication and, even though people you meet may seem really nice, they didn’t come there to be your new friend.
Networking at an event usually means you walk around and talk to many different people for five-ten minutes each. You exchange contact information (Ask “What’s the best way to reach you?” if you want their phone number or email and hopefully you will get their business card) and then you move on to a different person. YOU ARE NOT FRIEDNS FOR THE REST OF THE EVENING.
Say “It was really nice talking to you,” smile and move on – this is perfectly acceptable at an event.
How to Prepare for Networking
Before you go to any networking meeting, decide for yourself how many people you want to meet and who you want to meet specifically. If possible, look at people’s LinkedIn profiles in advance and think of a couple of questions you could ask them.
The rule of thumb is to be ready with 3-4 topics of conversation before the event, so it’s a good idea to read the (industry) news.
Also, prepare a sentence or two that you will use to introduce yourself. Write it down and practice it in front of a mirror.
With WHOM to Network
Aim to meet the ‘big’ people – presenters at the conference, organizers, managers, supervisors or those who are successful in their profession. These people have bigger networks and can connect you to more people. When talking to them, respect the five minute time limit – many people besides you would like to meet them. Always say something positive. A typical mistake some immigrants make is to start asking for something or complaining and thus make very poor first impression resulting in lost contacts and opportunities.
If all the ‘big’ people are taken, you have two choices – to line up and wait (perfectly acceptable after a presentation) or to identify another person standing alone whom you could talk to. If there are no people standing alone, look for groups of three or more who are engaged in a conversation, approach them, smile and try to make eye contact – people will usually let you in if your eye contact was successful. If not, move on to another group.
In Canada, it is perfectly acceptable to invite a person you met at a networking event for a cup of coffee or lunch/dinner together. In fact, if you don’t do it, then you have pretty much wasted your time at the event. If a person is really busy and you feel that they are an important business contact for you, offer to pay for their food/drink (“My treat”). Or, if not inviting them for a coffee, find another way to help them if you are expecting their help in return.
Building your Network is a Path to Job Security
Some immigrants do not want to join any after-hour company activities (fundraisers, committees, social events) because after work they want to go home to their families. These events are your networking opportunities. Smart people don’t go there for food or drink – they go there to make new contacts or strengthen the existing ones. You might not drink alcohol or like hockey, but when your co-workers are going to a bar to watch a sports game, you might consider going with them – a lot of business contacts could be developed this way. Buy a non-alcoholic drink and join the conversation.
When presented with an opportunity to volunteer your time in your company, take it! Helping organize an event is a chance to showcase your skills and dedication in front of the management and this can go a long way.
Networking is part of Canadian culture – it’s a normal and it’s expected. In Canada, people do it all the time – while looking for a job and after having found a job. Now that you know some basic rules, apply them and also observe others and notice how they do it – this will help you to master this skill.