Overcoming cultural discomfort with American-style networking
In the US networking is very different from other countries.
In the US:
- It is common and expected to reach out to strangers without introductions
- Professional relationships are built increasingly online – from LinkedIn and email messaging – instead of over multiple meals and meetings
- Conversations are often surface, avoiding lengthy discussions of family, religion or politics
- Professional relationships are built without knowing the real person
- It is ok to discuss work-related issues before knowing anything about a person
- Professional trust is built quickly through shared interests and affirmed by action
For international students these actions can feel awkward due to cultural obstacles. Talking about yourself in a self-promotional manner is considered appropriate in the US. But you might come from a country where it is wrong to promote yourself as better than other candidates – and this feeling may prevent you from adapting to the American style. It might even cause you to feel frustrated or resentful that you’ll have to adapt to a behavior that feels very unnatural. In the US job search, candidates are expected to discuss their professional achievements, an act which many international students feel is taboo.
Andy Molinsky, a professor of International Management and Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University, writes extensively on the cultural challenges international students face when adapting to American-style networking. His research shows international students often feel inauthentic or conflicted during American-style networking activities. Professor Molinksy identifies six dimensions where international students face challenges in their job search. All six dimensions relate to your communication style:
As Professor Molinksy shares in his book, Global Dexterity, the key to finding success is not to adapt entirely to US culture. Instead, find a hybrid approach, one that blends your best skills and behaviors with the expected US behaviors.
- practicing first in low-risk situations (example: practice interviewing friends before business professionals)
- avoiding pressuring yourself to get it right all the time (it’s not about success)
- finding a finding a cultural mentor who can help explain the cultural behaviors you find challenging. (ask your American friends to help give you context)
As you start to practice your networking activities, note when an activity feels uncomfortable or even wrong. Are you challenged by the lack of formality in US networking situations? Are you uncomfortable with self-promotion? Do you share too much information with others during conversations?
If you are struggling with American style networking, use a tool developed by Professor Molinksy called Diagnose Your Cultural Gap. It will help you identify where your challenges are and give you solutions to help.
To learn more about how culture affects international students’ job search, follow Andy Molinsky on Twitter and read his articles on the Harvard Business Review. The following posts for more context to the cross-cultural challenges you might face in the networking process: