Ask The Experts: Monthly Interview Series

Expat Networking Tips from Gabi Hegan,
CEO & Founder of HEIMATabroad

ATE - Gabi Hegan, Expat Networking

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Expat Networking Tips from Gabi Hegan

Today we speak with Gabi Hegan about expat networking. Gabi, originally from Munich, Germany, has founded several companies dedicated to guiding expats through their journey in the US. She oversees HEIMATabroad (platform and print magazine supporting German speaking expats nationwide), ICH BIN EXPAT (annual expat fair and year-round events in NY) and CityKinder (NY-based community website for German-speaking families).

When moving to a new city, what’s the best way to build a professional network outside of your company?

Your first contacts when moving to a new city usually develop through where you work. However, when building a professional network, your contacts shouldn’t all come from the same place, so it’s important to look elsewhere as well.

Online Research & Social Media

A great way to explore the local groups and social set up of your new environment is through online and social media research. Find local groups on Facebook for resources and local gatherings. Google your city and neighborhood. A good place to start is international groups in your area like Germans in New York City or Expats in Chicago and join the conversations. Meetup.com is a great option and you can go to actual meetings very quickly and connect with people face-to-face. Another way to dive right in are websites like Eventbrite.com where you can add your location and preferences and get customized events sent your way.

Another great opportunity to build your network is on LinkedIn. It’s a business networking tool and a great place to find like-minded people and professional organizations. Follow people or join groups that interest you and start an active conversation. Take your online networking activities offline by learning about networking events, business organizations and charities in your new area that you might want to join.

Volunteering

Join a local chapter of a professional association, especially related to your profession. Volunteer for a committee which can often forge quick bonds when working with others on a common goal. Americans are, in general, very generous with their time and money when it comes to supporting nonprofit organizations. Find a cause you like and offer your time. This is a great way to meet new people fast. One way to match your passion with your skills is https://www.volunteermatch.org.

Sports

Sports are huge in the US and there are plenty of ways to connect – mostly through clubs, group classes or team sports. These connections can become just personal, or personal and professional. However, if you are looking for social connections in the gym, you might be disappointed. While many European gyms also have a spa area and an area to socialize after your workout, American gyms are much more focused on working out alone.

Schools

If you have children, connecting via your child’s school is a no-brainer. American parents are generally a lot more involved in school activities, so if you have time to volunteer, get involved and you will meet new contacts fast! Like with sports, while they might start out as social connections, some can turn into professional contacts too.

 

Networking is important in the US. What are 3 things to be aware of?

Always introduce yourself & acknowledge everyone in the conversation

Whether you are at a work function or social event, when approaching a group, make sure to always introduce yourself first and fully acknowledge everyone already in the conversation. If you already know someone in a group conversation, it’s considered extremely rude just to talk to that person and ignore the people you don’t know yet. This is your chance to grow your circle of acquaintances.

Don’t confuse friendliness with being friends

Americans are in general very friendly and easy to talk to, however, it takes a while to establish a certain level of friendship. Stick to light topics of conversation at first. The famous American “small talk” may seem uncomfortable for some cultures, but once you embrace it, it’s a great way to warm up and you can always strike a deeper conversation later. “How are you?” just means “Hello,” and is not an invitation to spill your life story or dive deep into a controversial topic. Start on a light note and see how things develop.

My home is my castle

Americans are generally a lot more private when it comes to inviting people to their homes. Stopping by someone’s house without prior notice is a definite no-no. Dinner invitations are usually reserved for close friends and family. If someone accepts your invitation to dinner, don’t take it personally if you don’t receive an invite back right away (or ever). Exceptions are invites to larger parties like BBQ’s, an annual holiday bash or birthday parties. General party rules include to never show up empty handed (a bottle of wine is always a good way to go) and not to overstay your welcome. If a birthday party has a set end time in the invitation, that’s generally when you are expected to leave.

 

Establishing yourself in a new place requires determination, but there’s a line between being persistent & being rude. What’s acceptable & what’s considered going too far?

Every industry and company have their own unique culture, but in a more and more globalized workplace, it’s also very important to learn the obvious, as well as sometimes subtle, social cues of your new environment.

When it comes to establishing yourself in a new place, and more so in a new country, it’s important to first watch and learn so you can then best reach your goals. Especially when you join a team in a role managing people, unintentional “mistakes” can set the tone for the rest of your expat experience at your company. Usually intercultural training will give new expat employees the general lay of the land, but theory and practice are often 2 different things.

A few tips:

  • Watch and learn how your colleagues behave in meetings, answer the phone and talk to clients.
  • Learn and accept cultural differences. Yours is not always better — often just different.
  • When it comes to dealing with local clients, include your senior team members and make sure you understand the history of the client, as well as the cultural context. What may come across as a goal-getter in one culture may be rude in another.

An example:

You are in B-to-B sales and your client tells you to call them back in 6 months after their annual strategy is set.

An American client would expect a phone call or email sometime during those 6 months to check-in, inform them about new developments with your company and ask questions on progress. This is generally perceived as showing interest and building a relationship.

In contrast, a German client would expect not to hear from you until the 6 months are over, unless you have a really valid reason or relevant new information. Calling or emailing too much in between could be perceived as pushy and “sales-y.”

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