3 tips to build a network in a new industry or city, from scratch - what I learned from living in 6+ cities
Many of us experience going somewhere new, where we have to rebuild a personal or professional network from scratch - for example the first time moving to university, or relocating for better career opportunities. In an unfamiliar environment, it can be difficult to meet new people and make connections when everyone seems so tight knit already.
Since childhood, I’ve been thrown into these difficult situations many, many times. Being the only student in a classroom who didn’t know someone from the previous year, was really difficult as a kid! Over 6+ moves between the north and south of Taiwan, and to the east and west of Canada, I’ve been forced to learn how to meet and make new friends quickly.
I’ve applied all these experiences to my adult life as well, in both professional and social settings, and here I share 3 practices I use to make things just a bit easier.
In school, it’s easier to achieve consistency. What I mean by consistency, is that if you see the same people enough times, you’ll get to know them, naturally, regardless of if you are extraverted or introverted.
However, in our adult lives, this is not as simple as showing up to class and seeing the same classmates, but a very deliberate practice. Outside of work, this takes a lot of time and energy to invest in, but it completely worth it.
There are lot of ways to meet people - if I’m somewhere new, I’ve used the following websites (country or geography dependent, may need to look up equivalents):
Note: In times of the pandemic, there are many events online, and all of the tips in this article still apply.
- Meetup - professional or social events
- Couchsurfing - mostly social, but you can try to find people in your professional field with some manual filtering
- HelloTalk - I use this mostly when traveling abroad: it’s a language exchange app and is useful for meeting locals
- Events listed at universities on interesting topics in the city you’re visiting / moving to
- Tinder works
Even back when I was in university and wanted to expand my social circle, I attended clubs or volunteered, and met friends across just about all the faculties in university. The key is not to go once or twice to the events, and “hope for the best”, but to keep showing up. The organizers or other attendees will start to recognize you and say hi.
This is basically a foolproof method, no matter how good or bad one is at making self introductions. Do not give up just because after one or two attempts, no one talked to you!
People aren’t averse to you introducing yourself
I find that starting out as the only person that doesn’t already know someone, in a social event, is one of the most nerve wracking things to endure. Frankly, the truth is, this often was just my inner saboteur making assumptions - unless you’re crashing a tiny gathering, in most Meetups or events there are bound to be other people that also didn’t know people prior.
I try to keep that in mind, which helps me approach people and introduce myself. You never know who’s waiting for someone to talk to them as well!
Some common questions I ask to a group of new people or individuals:
- What brings you here to [this event]?
- How do you know [the speaker / organizers]?
A simple smile reduces nervousness
The simple act of smiling can be underrated. It’s amazing how effective it is when getting to know people. Of course, a creepy or forced smile isn’t going to work, either. Just keep it friendly and natural.
For example, if there’s a large group of people that I don’t know, talking in a circle amongst each other, giving a polite smile and nod is usually enough to prompt them to make a space for a new person to join. Don’t just hover nervously outside the circle.
Note: In times of the pandemic, on video calls, the equivalent is to speak up when there is a chance to - for example if the organizer pauses and asks (something like) “does anyone want to share?” Just unmute your microphone and do it. Don’t regret it after the event thinking “I should have spoken up”, when it’s too late!
Smiling is also great to break the barrier of saying hi to someone for the first time. It helps reduce nervousness, and is helpful to me when I feel overwhelmed or intimidated (e.g. when I was a student in a room full of professionals).
In conclusion, I hope those three tips help you build a new network, when you move to a new place, or are entering a new field. It is intimidating to start from scratch, even for me, but with deliberate practice, introducing yourself to new people and making connections will become easier and easier!