A new city can be tough, and making new professional relationships even tougher. You’re all alone, the streets keep changing direction, names are unfamiliar, and you’re not even entirely sure what time zone you’re in. But before you decide to repack your bags without even introducing yourself at the new internship, keep in mind that this is part of what you signed up for- and it’s good. New friends are on the way to help you out. So take a deep breath and learn to play to your advantages.
You’ve already found the perfect internship, but here’s how to build extensive professional networks in your new international city.
First, identify your motivators.
You chose your current internship program for a reason: likely to gain knowledge in the field, to have something to put on your CV, to make work connections. Interrogate yourself using these basic questions to fully define your networking motives:
Do I want to work at this company in the future?
Do I want to work at a different company in this country in the future?
Do I simply want to work on building professional networking skills?
Am I open to making connections that can help me find jobs in any country?
Do I want to simply work abroad, don’t care where?
Once identified, these will influence your strategy for building a professional network in a new city. For instance, if you know you don’t care about working at your current internship company in the future, you can focus less efforts on building internal relationships and put more effort into seeking connections through public networking events, online websites, scheduling informational interviews, etc. Or maybe you want to get hired by your current internship provider – this will influence your end game, too.
And always be prepared: have a firm grasp on your goal and your own person. Have an elevator pitch ready (a brief summary of who you are and what you do); be ready to whip it out when opportunity puts you in front of the right person at the right time. This not only applies to your current company, but also to surrounding businesses and strangers working in the field.
The beauty of starting from scratch in a new place is that nobody knows you. You can paint any picture you want of yourself and no one will contradict you. It’s a Start Over, but without any of the cons. If you had always wanted tell more jokes, or become a leader, or be recognized as the group counselor, or be seen as someone outgoing and confident, this is your chance to shed old skins and shine with a new light.
Step out of your comfort zone; redefine your boundaries and adapt a new persona. Overcoming these limits is easier in a neutral environment and will leave you feeling pretty proud of your efforts. Create an identity and flaunt it like the whole world is looking.
Once there, make personal connections.
Rather than focusing on professional relationships, think of personal relationships first. When warming up to someone, remember the basics of every kindergarten rules list: be nice, be respectful, treat others the way you wish to be treated. Before being coworkers or potentially advantageous career connections, they are people, and it’s no surprise that personal friendships last longer than work relationships.
Keep your priorities straight. Offer something intriguing before asking for help. Use networking to create your own opportunities. Find people you can relate to and talk to them. Even if they are not the CEO, they might one day end up in a higher or influential position; it’s much more likely that they will think kindly of you if the friendship started before they became king of the hill. Be an irreplaceable rockstar, but play it cool.
Also, be aware that the world is a big and, at times, strange place. It is important to adapt to potential cultural differences and new work styles, and appreciate them for what they are. Be conscious of local business culture best practices; don’t dive into a conversation about job op’s if standard-practice calls for three cups of tea.
This is especially important if you find yourself in a country where English is not the main language, but still relevant in countries with new slang or speaking conventions. Don’t just hang out with the expats or use charades as your main form of communication. Take a few classes, whip out the schooll textbooks, and try to strike up conversations. People will appreciate you trying and applaud the efforts. And once you hop over the language hurdle, just think of all the new connections you can make.
Not only does speaking more than one language improve and stimulate various parts of your brain, but it opens up the door for a variety of opportunities that might not be there otherwise. It can your raise your position internally with the company and offer opportunities to delve into a whole new country of businesses.
Research local networking events.
Start networking before you go. Brainstorm if you personally know anyone living there, no matter how distantly-related they are. Check alumni directories from university, and ask friends if they know anybody. Between friends of friends of friends and bizarre aunts, someone is bound to know someone that can be of use to you.
Once there, integrate yourself with the new city. Glance at your home country’s nearest Chamber of Commerce website to get familiar with local organizations and reach out to individuals that seem interesting. Professional networking events are not rare. Another great option is to research meet-up groups or local expat websites, both of which regularly host events that appeal to all sorts of interests. (Warning: do not just hang out with expats though! You still do want to learn a new language and meet locals).
Keep up contacts.
Keep in mind that internships aren’t over with the end date of the post. If you made strong, positive connections, don’t just disappear off the face of the earth once you move out of the office. Stay in touch and maintain your presence. Even if employment at the current place isn’t an option, it is more than likely that people in that field will hear of other openings that they can refer you to. Make relationships and impressions that last long after the echoes of your footsteps leave the building.
While starting a new life in a new place may seem daunting at first, it is important to view the experience as an opportunity, not just a challenge. Use the occasion as a chance to change, improve, and make a new set of work relationships that will take you to the new level.
Article contributed by Julia Zaremba, GoAbroad.com
Julia is an avid traveler, lifelong artist, theater geek, interior designer, future author, and occasional teacher. Originally from Germany, she was raised and started her university studies in Texas, before moving to Italy for her first formal teaching experience. Since then, she has traveled throughout Europe and the Americas, constantly on the look-out for the next adventure.
She is currently working as an editorial assistant at GoAbroad, hoping to encourage people to study abroad and experience the world beyond a textbook.