Best networking practices in Manila

networking etiquette
Updated 2023-07-01 12:15

Professional networking is an essential aspect of building a successful career when you move to a new country. Having proper networking etiquette at the right time can make the difference between you snapping up a great opportunity and you losing out. While expectations for networking behaviour are largely common across the world, it is useful to know the local customs so as not to make a faux pas and see your efforts go to waste. In Manila, you can't go wrong if you keep in mind the following do's and don'ts.

Do's and don'ts in networking in Manila

Don't be too aggressive and direct

A common mistake for an expat to make in Manila, especially for someone coming from a Western nation, is to assume that being direct and getting straight to the point is the most effective approach to everything. You may believe that by being as clear and specific as possible, you are respecting everyone's time and helping move things forward. While this may be true in a Western context, Filipino culture is all about the soft touch — it values taking the time to build a relationship with a new acquaintance. Directness is, therefore, seen as a disrespectful impropriety. Instead of coming off as aggressive, you want to be seen as patient and respectful.

Don't begin your introduction by explaining outright that you want a job — they might already guess that. Instead, build their trust gradually by starting with uncontroversial topics such as the weather or the traffic (common Filipino small talk topics!) or some light-hearted industry talk. Only towards the end of the conversation, and if not yet obvious, should you make it explicit what you are looking for.

Don't overdress

Professional networking events held in Manila do not usually call for formal attire. Especially given the climate in a tropical country like the Philippines, it is rare for professionals to don a full suit. Semi-formal and smart casual dressing is the way to go. For men, a well-ironed shirt will do the trick. Women could opt for a dressier outfit while pairing it with heels.

Don't strive to collect dozens of business cards

It is not a numbers game. In networking in Manila, what matters much more than the number of business cards you can collect is the quality of the new connections. It doesn't pay if the new ‘contacts' you made barely have a fleeting memory of you when you later shoot them an email. It is much preferable if your new acquaintance has had such an interesting conversation with you that they are eager to reach out to you later.

Don't party like it's 1999

While networking events in Manila are often draped in the appearance of a casual social event — perhaps held at a local bar in BGC or offering a free bucket of beers in a pub in Makati City — don't forget that the reason you are here is to demonstrate the professional side of you. While it doesn't hurt to discover a new best friend or drinking buddy, your goal here is to demonstrate that you are a valuable potential colleague or employee. Save the dancefloor breakdance routine for another time.

Do keep the conversation light

Small talk is a good way to break the ice and is very welcome in Filipino culture. You will never be judged as boring for commenting on the weather or the traffic. However, ensure that you don't end up talking about what you think about the government's current traffic-easing efforts! Stay away from politics if possible. Another topic we all know to stay away from is religion, and this is true in the Philippines as well.

On the other hand, casual personal questions are not out of scope. As an expat, you may be faced with genuine questions about your family or your reasons for moving to the Philippines, and you should be open to these questions. Stay light and positive - nobody wants to be reminded about the negatives, especially any criticisms of their own country. Filipinos like to play the welcoming host, and you should, in turn, be the grateful guest.

Do listen keenly to other's problems

Everyone has a problem they are trying to solve, and they would love nothing more than someone who can offer some hints and insight that could help them along. Be curious and interested in what their professional work involves, and don't shy away from asking deeper questions. Have the attitude that perhaps you can help them in some way. Aim to be useful. Your own needs and problems can be given second priority, and when eventually it is your turn to share, you will be sure to have their rapt attention.

The proper way to keep in touch in Manila

Generally, it is common to exchange business cards at networking events. The traditional Filipino way to offer your business card is by holding the card out with both hands. Similarly, upon receiving a person's card, it is polite to take a moment to scan through the card before depositing it in your purse or wallet. Even when neither of you has a business card to share, there is nothing to stop you from exchanging email addresses. For instance, you could unlock your phone and create a new contact in the address book or just whip open a notepad app and have the person type their email address. Another option is to ask them to search for themselves on LinkedIn on your own phone and thus add themselves directly that way. By getting a new acquaintance's contact details, you will avoid having to struggle to find them if you need to contact them in the future. Moreover, after shaking hands with new people all evening long, you would surely need some help in remembering all the names!

Networking at professional events in Manila is not as complicated as it sounds, as long as you know how to avoid some common missteps and if you have the right frame of mind. With these etiquette tips under your belt, networking in the Philippines should now be a breeze.

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