Sonia Sotomayor, Justice of the US Supreme Court, was the first Hispanic to reach that position. As she said in her book ‘My beloved World’:
I have just completed 18 years of professional career in the USA, 2 thirds of the total. During this time, I have continually faced the challenges encountered by people from different cultures and whose native language is not English. I have had the opportunity to deal with all kinds of people, including billionaire businessmen from the Forbes list, executives responsible for 10-figure budgets, senators, celebrities who deliver “oscars”, astronauts and NBA stars.
A fundamental aspect in all domains, both for doing business and to develop a professional career in this country, is ‘networking’.
The American Webster Dictionary defines ‘networking‘ as the exchange of information or services between individuals, groups, or institutions, specifically to cultivate productive relationships for employment or business. Nothing that does not happen anywhere in the world. However, there are multiple subtle nuances in the way it takes place in the US that foreigners are not aware of when they start their business activities or professional work in this country, even after several years.
A common mistake for people with international experience when starting a life in the US is to ignore the fact that, unlike residents in many other countries, the average American is not used to dealing with foreigners. About 60% of Americans do not have a passport. With the exceptions of some large cities and tourist areas, most citizens do not find many opportunities to interact with outsiders. The media tend to focus substantially on domestic information except for sporadic news from a small number of big countries, which means that the knowledge of other cultures is limited.
Cold selling and applying for a job by sending a resume directly have little chance of success in this market. For both objectives, effective ‘networking’ can achieve a substantial increase in the possibilities of obtaining the desired results. For this reason a considerable effort must be made to know and adapt to the way of interactive of the locals.
In this article we will identify 10 useful keys for foreigners when networking in the US.
- Know in depth the language in your target domain
- If you have an accent, be proud of it
- Understand cultural differences – part one: confrontation and emotional expressiveness
- Understand cultural differences – part two: building trust
- Learn about networking like it is a science
- Use LinkedIn continuously, effectively
- Prepare and practice, practice, practice interactions in person
- Develop the right attitude
- Take advantage of the opportunities created by the COVID-19 tsunami
- Define and implement an effective process based on structured networking
1. Know in depth the language in your target domain
A language error in the first interactions with a person can put an end to that relationship if misunderstandings or uncomfortable situations are created for any reason, or a smooth communication does not originate.
Obviously achieving a deep understanding of American English is essential to network effectively. Beware of those who have learned Shakespeare’s language in the UK because there are more differences than expected (for example, if you need an eraser, ask for an eraser, never a rubber …).
It will also be of great value all the time invested in learning the key terms used in the target domain in which one is going to carry out his or her activity. English is an extremely vocabulary-rich language, according to the Oxford Dictionary it is likely to have more words than most comparable languages in the world (about 170,000 in use), as a consequence of the incorporation of terms from multiple sources (Germanic languages, French, Latin and others). However, each professional activity uses a small subset that can be identified and mastered within a reasonable time.
The active vocabulary of a native adult is about 20,000 words, of which only a small subset is frequently used in a given sector. Reading specialized publications in the area of interest along with a proactive attitude to identify, record and memorize key terms can be of great help in achieving this goal.
A minimum command of the most frequently used slang expressions is essential to manage safely in informal conversations. To achieve this, it may be helpful to frequently watch US movies or series with subtitles.
2. If you have an accent, be proud of it
Less than 20% of Americans speak a second language
(60% of them were born in another country).
Bilingualism in this country is much lower than that what is found in most of the world (in Europe it is more than 50%). If you have an accent when you speak English, it is because you can communicate (or are trying to) in at least two languages, which places you ahead of a good part of the local population.
Logically, it is essential that your English is easy to understand and it will help if your accent is similar to that of your interlocutors. This will help build familiarity, which is essential when developing relationships with other people, but this is not an easy thing to accomplish when one started learning a language after the first few years of life.
After all, the United States is a country that has enriched itself with the contribution of immigrants who have very often maintained a strong foreign accent without this being an insurmountable barrier. There are examples of people like Henry Kissinger (ex-Secretary of State), José Andrés (chef, businessman, philanthropist), Arnold Schwarzenegger (actor, businessman, ex-Governor of California), Indra Nooyi (CEO of Pepsi) and many others.
3. Understand cultural differences - part one: confrontation and emotional expressiveness
What has been said about language and accent is important, but something critical must be kept in mind. It is estimated that in interpersonal communication only 7% of the information comes from words, the remaining 93% is non-verbal information that comes from body language (55%) and tone of voice (38%). These aspects vary between countries and are part of something as complex as cultural differences.
Numerous studies such as those conducted by Erin Meyer for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) have shown that people in different cultures normally have different attitudes regarding a series of dimensions such as level of confrontation in negotiations and emotional expressiveness. Americans are close to the world average in both dimensions. Foreigners must be aware of where they are in both parameters and keep it in mind in their interactions with Americans, adapting as much as possible and interpreting their interlocutor correctly. Some examples can be seen in the following figure (ref “Getting to Si, Ja, Oui, Hai, and Da”, en HBR):
4. Understand cultural differences - part two: building trust
Another dimension cited in the same Harvard Business Review article, which is key to networking, is how you build trust in a relationship. At one extreme, in some countries trust is generated essentially cognitively. In this culture, if we are trying to sell a product, what will matter most will be the objective data about it and about the company that sells it. At the other extreme, in others trust is generated mainly in an affective way. In the same example, it will be key for the seller to connect emotionally with the potential buyer.
It is noteworthy that in this dimension the USA is right at the extreme of cognitive confidence. It does not mean that the affective aspect is irrelevant but it does have less importance than the objective data that can be presented to convince of the benefits that this relationship can generate for the other person. In general Anglo-Saxon cultures (United Kingdom, Australia, Canada) are closer to the pole of cognitive trust and Hispanic cultures are closer to the pole of affective trust, which is extreme in the case of some African countries, the Middle East and China.
It will be important to keep this aspect in mind so that you do not invest too much effort initially to create that affective trust, and make sure that you present objective information from the outset that may motivate the other person to develop the relationship. Focus on who you are, what you sell, why I’m interested in talking to you. As they say here, ‘cut to the chase’, don’t beat around the bush.
In any case, as Mark Twain said:
In other words, it is good to know the average differences between the cultures, but each person is a universe and the United States is a country of enormous diversity, much greater than what is seen from outside. Therefore, it is important to get to know the individual and adapt the dynamics to their personality.
5. Learn about networking like it is a science
Although it may seem like an art, the truth is that the process of ‘networking’ in the US is well studied and there are excellent references in the market that can facilitate the learning process for a foreigner to be able to use it successfully.
There are hundreds of books and probably tens of thousands of articles on the Internet on this topic. A highly recommended example is the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. This 1937 book is a classic and remains for the most part the best reference for developing high-value human relationships. More than 30 million copies have been sold. One of its pillars is summarized in this quote by the author:
Some tips from this book fully applicable to ‘networking’:
- Smile. Smiles are free and have an amazing ability to make others feel wonderful.
- Remember that a person’s name is the sweetest sound they can hear.
- Speak in terms of the other person’s interest. The real way to their heart is to talk about the things they treasure the most.
- Listen actively. Encourage the other person to talk about themselves. The easiest way to become a good conversationalist is to know how to listen.
- Make the other person feel important, and do it sincerely.
A recent update to this book created by the author’s heirs is “How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age” which covers the aspects associated with online relationships.
6. Use LinkedIn continuously, effectively
It should come as no surprise to anyone at this point if we say that LinkedIn must be a central element in an effective networking strategy anywhere in the world. In the US this is even clearer, due to the tendency in this culture to create confidence through the cognitive route, as we have commented before. This makes it much easier than in other nations to create a new relationship through a “cold door” presentation without the need for a presentation by a common contact. Some extremely important points to keep in mind:
- Identify clear objectives and design a strategy aligned with them, apply it in a systematic and disciplined way
- Make sure that your profile and your activity (posts, invitations to connect, etc.) are fully consistent with this strategy. Leave personal, political and controversial questions for other social networks.
- Identify organizations that may be of interest to your objectives, use the search tool to locate people of interest and, if there are shared contacts with trusted people, ask them to make a presentation as this will increase the chances of success
- Study the person and their organization before establishing contact to adapt the message as much as possible, highlighting points that can create familiarity or help create interest in starting a conversation.
- After establishing a valuable contact, propose a short conversation in the near future
- Take advantage of any opportunity to grow the network with contacts aligned with your goals. The value of the network will grow exponentially with its size (Metcalfe’s law).
7. Prepare and practice, practice, practice interactions in person
Without a doubt, preparation is the key to success in networking. Designing each interaction in advance ensuring that the message and form used are fully aligned with our objectives will increase the probability of success.
The reality is that the level of the average American, when it comes to “selling” themselves in a dialogue in any professional or business context, is higher than in many other countries. Multiple factors contribute to this fact, including the entrepreneurial spirit embedded in American culture, the educational system that encourages public presentations, the ease of working with clients from an early age on all kinds of services, the mysterious absence of inhibitions that many locals show in these situations, or the abundance of opportunities to participate in musical or theatrical performances during the school years.
For all these reasons, it is of great importance to be ready to give our ‘elevator pitch’ convincingly. The idea is that if we have the possibility to share a short time with a person of interest (as can happen in an elevator), we should be able to present ourselves or our company in such a way that we create an interest in the other person that leads to a conversation and potentially to the development of a professional relationship.
This speech should not last more than 30-60 seconds and must be prepared and practiced thoroughly, adapting it in part to the listener to create a personal connection by identifying aspects that may be of interest to them. In this country, it is surprisingly easy to get that time from almost anyone, we must make the most of it.
Participating in events relevant to our goals (online or in person when the coronavirus allows) can be much more effectively exploited by preparing and preparing that elevator speech and carefully crafting robust answers to the most likely or frequently asked questions. The same can be said of interviews or formal presentations that could be derived.
8. Develop the right attitude
For most, the hardest part of ‘networking’ is managing the associated emotions. Understanding the theory and defining a strategy is simple, but another question is putting it into practice. The fear of rejection or embarrassment arises immediately. On this point it is convenient to keep in mind some ideas such as the following:
- Like everything in this life, the more we do it, the easier it will become and the better we will be at it. The first time in a day is always the hardest. Do not send an invitation to connect on LinkedIn, send 5 in a row to 5 different people (preparing them properly as we have said). Group calls and meetings in blocks of time, the message you will transmit will be very similar and you will do better with practice.
- Learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. This is one of the best tips I have received. Overcoming the aforementioned fears will help us to ‘network’ much more effectively, but it will also allow us to develop the ability to face other challenges with greater confidence. Take each interaction as a great opportunity for personal growth.
- Tame your shyness. It is too expensive a handicap. The rest of the world cares much less than we think. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?
“That which hurts, also instructs”
9. Take advantage of the opportunities created by the COVID-19 tsunami
Despite the serious crisis caused by the pandemic, there have been a series of changes in the dynamics of doing business that can facilitate the ‘networking’ process for foreigners in the US:
- The resistance to participating in videoconferences has been greatly reduced. The possibility of seeing the other person facilitates communication. A large amount of non-verbal information is received and when English is not your native language it is easier to understand the interlocutor than in a phone call.
- It is easier to get a meeting by videoconference than it was to get in-person meetings before the pandemic, because it is more accessible and avoids travel. Use it for the information meetings mentioned in the next section.
- The geographical location for many conversations is irrelevant, as long as we adapt to the interlocutor’s time slot, so we can ‘network’ with Americans from anywhere in the world
10. Define and implement an effective process based on structured networking
Structured networking consists in maintaining a series of information meetings with people of interest who can provide us with useful information and contacts that provide value to achieve our objectives. Each meeting should lead to new meetings with other people, so that we progressively get closer to what we are looking for (a sale, a job, etc.).
Meetings should be thoroughly prepared to make the most of them, investigating the person with whom we are going to meet, identifying ways to awaken their interest and create familiarity, and applying everything said in point 5 to create the basis of a potential professional relationship.
At the beginning of the meeting we will give our “elevator speech”, a little more extensive and adapted to the interlocutor. We will seek to establish a friendly, balanced and valuable dialogue for both parties, looking for topics of mutual interest and finding opportunities for collaboration.
The power of this process is maximized when it is associated with continued use of LinkedIn. Before each meeting, the profile of the individual with whom we are going to talk should be reviewed to learn as much as possible about their profile and their organization, and to identify a small number of their contacts that could be of interest to us. For such contacts and when it makes sense, we should request an introduction that will maximize the chances of meeting with them.
It is always advisable to send a message afterwards to the person with whom we have met, thanking them for their time and providing information or contacts that may be of interest to them, related to the conversation we have had.
In some events in the US, ad-hoc structured networking sessions are created in which brief one-on-one meetings are organized, rotating in a room, allowing interaction with a large number of people with common interests. In the right environment, it can be a good opportunity to get a high number of interesting contacts in a short time. While the pandemic lasts, most of these sessions are taking place online, obviously.
Finally, the best networkers actively manage their valuable professional relationships with tools that allow them to track interactions, ensuring that they are maintained and developed in a positive way. A simple sheet in MS Excel or professional customer relationship management (CRM) software can be of great help for this purpose, but the most important thing is to keep monitoring these valuable assets.
From Markentry USA, we can support business development processes of companies and promote the professional career of individuals through our team of experts and extensive network of contacts throughout the United States. Contact us to discuss your needs in detail.