Our first All Hands Taiwan event was a remarkable success last week, and for those who missed it here is a distilled blog account of the main topics that were discussed (see the photos here!). We will be publishing a summary blog post along with audio after every event. For a quick reminder who the panelists were for this event, check out this blog post. And if you’d like to listen to the whole event, you can do so here (skip past the first minute or two of crowd noise):
The Networking Experience
For the four panelists, networking was essential to their professional life in Taiwan. One key word that came up in the discussion was being ‘shameless’ in reaching out to the network.
For John who was a freelance writer for ad agencies and marketing firms for a year, it was essential to stick his neck out to get a string of jobs from companies who appreciated his initiative. In his words, it was key to show his face at networking events, otherwise he would not get anywhere in the long run. A common theme among the panel was that the payoff from networking may not seem clear at the time, and only time will reveal the true value of these connections. Playing the long game works, playing the short game with networking is asking lightning to strike the same spot twice.
The above idea was echoed by Alan- who quit teaching in Taipei to look for something new in Shanghai, and the only way for him to thrive in that new environment was to reach out to everyone: apply for every single job that he was qualified for online, incessantly messaging people on LinkedIn (check out his LinkedIn if you want to see a very polished and well-connected profile)and suiting up and turning up to large corporate offices such as Nike and bravely handing out a resume to HR. It takes guts to promote yourself in such a way, however it gets easier after the first few times after you battle the anxiety and social awkwardness. The only way to gain confidence in being shameless is through constant trial and error: walking into countless shiny corporate offices, nearly getting kicked out of some of them but then again being offered interviews etcetera. Networking also extended to the bar, sharing a drink with a variety of people and steering conversations to talk about potential leads, opportunities and asking for introductions to influential decision makers who could get you a job.
For sure, there are different approaches and varying degrees of intensity you can commit yourself to networking, but whether you are a freelancer seeking the next pay-check like John or a job-seeker like Alan was (both who threw absolutely everything at networking), you will know your environment far better, and people in that environment will consciously know that you are an individual who is hungry and eager to contribute. Who would not want to hire such an individual?
Another approach to networking is to invest time and energy in building connections when you are already in a job. Kathleen, for instance, worked in a high-end school when she first started in Taipei and built connections with the parents of the kids she was teaching. Consequently, Kathleen realised that by going above and beyond in establishing connections she built a future-client base who were fully supportive of her projects after her teaching. This client-base consisted of Taiwanese celebrities, politicians and influencers who ended up benefitting Kathleen’s career after teaching entirely.
By attending plenty of parties and being proactive in talking to plenty of people, Jenna developed a mental map of her network and became extremely resourceful to her network by connecting. She knew everyone’s niche in the specific talents, and in turn the network now knew her niche and her talents as a Fashion designer. Networking is not a one-way grab, and in Jenna’s words it involves connecting friends who need work, on top of finding yourself work and opportunities. Otherwise put, if networking is not approached in way that could be mutually beneficial for you and the network you will not get far. Be resourceful and valued by your network, do not just take: share.
One point worth reiterating again and again is that the value of a connection will never be apparent on the surface. You could meet someone in a bar, a trade show or Chamber of Commerce event who will directly impact your career or introduce you to someone who will. But also, it can be problematic to expect that you will gain something beneficial instantaneously from networking. As the anecdotes above show; the actual value of networking is long-term, far reaching and will ultimately benefit you in the grand scheme of things. So, reply to every message on LinkedIn, be kind to everyone at parties and at socials, and be as social as you can. There is no doubt that a fair amount of luck is needed to find a job/career or start off on your own projects- networking allows you to make your own luck and tilt the odds in your favour. Get yourself out there.
The Transition from Teaching
It is not easy to find a different job or carve your own business when you leave teaching in Taiwan, that is the reality. Before embarking on this transition, you must be willing to pull out all the stops and be comfortable in being uncomfortable.
One way of making the transition smoother is to use teaching as an investor of your personal projects. The process for Kathleen took 3 years- gradually doing less hours of teaching and dedicating more time and energy to her dance instructing. Although she wanted to take the leap to become a freelance dance and fitness instructor, she had to do so from a place of financial stability. As she gradually focused her time and energy on her new project- staying connected with former tutees and schools ensured she had a safety net if there was an abrupt change in fortune.
As Jenna revealed, she still teaches part-time as it gives her a stable financial base to pursue her passion. Not only does financial stability and covering all bases help, but it also frees up time for her to dedicate herself to different projects and work creatively. In addition, one terrific way to illustrate your talent and work during the transition is to offer it up for free. It seems like common sense that people would prefer to see examples of your work before committing to paying for them, especially if you want to stand out from the competition and be unique. Not every business relationship has to be transactional and offering to do free work or consult for free really goes a long way in promoting your skills. When Jenna is giving Fashion advice for example, she wants to convey the value and her ability for free to underline the added value and expertise she will give if she is hired or commissioned. Do not be afraid to do something that has no immediate monetary value, it gives the market a glimpse and sneak preview of your talent and skills.
One common thread between all four panellists during the discussion was the reference to ‘Learn by Doing’. To unpack this grand statement a little more – during this discussion it essentially meant throwing yourself at opportunities that other people may turn their nose at, smashing internships that pays you peanuts, being resourceful to your network and offering to do work for free, but also willing to be adaptable and pick up new skills and experiences. Learning new skills whilst you teach helps in switching career paths further along the line. If you want to work in one of the hundreds of Start-ups in Taipei you can learn the basics of coding or graphic design for instance, if you want to work in PR and Advertising a little Mandarin Chinese could give you the edge in transitioning into that specific career. Also, a key point to remember is that there are so many transferable skills from teaching that you can use to apply for another job- thinking on your feet, communicating clearly, leading a presentation, public speaking, organising events to name but a few.
Opportunities are not going to fall in your lap in Taiwan, you must try hard to create your own unique career like Jenna or Kathleen or get into a corporate job like Alan and John. There are problems with the reality of job hunting in Taiwan which are pointless to complain about, only thing you can focus, and change is you: your approach. If you do not like how the table is set, turn over the table. The key takeaway advice for the transition for teaching may seem too obvious and trivial to reiterate but here it is- be proactive and prepare for the next step-,the larger your network the more well-informed you will be to make that step. The transition should be gradual, well-informed and well planned- not a leap of faith.
There is no ‘right way’ to go about transitioning from teaching to other work. But there are many things that you can choose to do that can help put you in a position to make that jump on your terms and with the most certainty possible. What sounds simple, isn’t always so simple – hard work, perseverance, networking, and a little bit of luck.