Making Contact: Some Do’s and Don’ts

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Christina Liew, Executive Board Member for the UN Women Singapore National Committee *

Christina is our star collaborator, a transformative leader and a remarkable role model.

What are the Do’s and Dont’s of making contacts? This is her valuable advice on the topic:

So you’ve made the daring decision to move to a new city or country. Congratulations! And right along comes the exciting yet daunting process of looking for a job in a place where you might not know anyone. You dig through your network of family, friends and colleagues to ask if anyone knows anyone in Mumbai/Hong Kong/San Francisco. And to your delight, someone offers you a contact name.

Now that you’ve secured an introduction, what should your next steps be?

I relocated from Boston to Singapore in 2005 under the same circumstances. My professional experience was in corporate philanthropy and CSR, which was still a nascent field in Asia at the time, so I essentially rebuilt my connections from scratch. Having someone in my network make an introduction was a tremendous help, and certainly beats hours of cold calling. But it took some trial and error before I figured out how I could best utilise this valuable resource.

I’ve now worked in Singapore for ten years, mostly in NGOs doing development work. I now field a steady stream of inquiries from friends who know someone moving to Singapore to introduce me to. I’m always up for meeting new people and will help where I can; however, there are certain traits (both positive and negative) that have stood out over the years.

 Don’t…

-Focus solely on your qualifications. Over the years I have been sent 10-page resumes, countless writing samples and graduate thesis that no doubt came from brilliant candidates. While it is important to demonstrate your abilities and skills sets, your contact probably doesn’t need to read about every course you took in university or each task you’ve completed at your previous job. You only get a limited amount of time and goodwill, so don’t overwhelm them. Choose what you communicate about your background carefully, and emphasise only the relevant points.

Do…

-Articulate how you see yourself contributing to the organisation. Oftentimes an organisation might not have a specific profile or job description available, but is looking to grow and add to their portfolio of competencies. These are great opportunities for candidates to carve out a role for themselves and gain entry. For example, perhaps fundraising has always been problematic for a particular organisation but they’ve managed to squeeze by each year. By offering up your previous experiences in donor development, they could consider creating a role that utilises that skill and expand their contributions base.

Don’t…

Ask your contact to find you a job. This should go without saying, but your contact is not a personal head-hunter. A lot of times the benefit of having a professional contact comes in unexpectedly forms that don’t involve actual job placement. They could provide in-depth knowledge about your chosen industry, an overview of competitors, feedback on your resume and job search approach, etc. If they happen to place you in an open position, all the better. But keep in mind that the onus of finding and securing the job is on you, not them.

Do…

Carry out your share of the due diligence. These days, spending a few hours on the internet can generate a great deal of information about your target industry, organisation or even potential hiring manager. There is no excuse for being uninformed or unprepared when you head into that coveted phone call or coffee chat with your contact. Familiarise yourself with the region and latest news about your field of work. Are there local legislations that make the professional landscape different than the one you left? Are there recent developments that have changed how organisations operate in that locale? Doing your homework is a prerequisite for a productive relationship.

Don’t…

Ask for excessive amounts of time. As I’ve mentioned, goodwill and time are not infinitely at your disposal. You may get no more than an hour on Skype or an afternoon coffee to engage with this person. It is not appropriate, for example, to ask for weekly meetings until you find a job. This is further incentive for you to be prepared from the beginning.

Do…

Utilise your contact’s resources wisely. Once you’ve completed that first meeting, you may have the good fortune of getting a secondary introduction to a friend or colleague who is hiring. Even if the opportunity is not in your sweet spot and you do not want to pursue it, take the time to meet with them. Remember, the more connections you make in a new place, the better you will be positioned to the right openings. Gaining exposure and traction can be tedious and time-consuming, and unfortunately there are no short cuts. The leg work you put in to your job search is worthwhile and will only benefit you in the end.

ABOUT CHRISTINA

Christina Liew serves as an Executive Board Member for the UN Women Singapore National Committee, where she has been involved since 2005. Working under the UN Women mandate to raise awareness, educate the public and fundraise, she has worked on major initiatives covering domestic violence, human trafficking, and gender equality. Passionate about women’s roles in impacting society, she was also one of the founding Executive Board members of Aidha, a nonprofit that provides foreign domestic workers financial education and entrepreneurship training.
Until 2015, she was also the General Manager for The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), a Singapore-based nonprofit organisation that uses adventure and sports as a platform to champion social causes. As part of the TCRP team, she ran the Angkor Wat Half Marathon for three years in the fight against human trafficking.
Originally hailing from Boston, Christina currently lives in Singapore with her husband and son.

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