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While working on the recently released book, Working in Thailand: How to Ditch the Desk, Board the Flight, and Land the Job, one theme that seemed to pop up again and again in the 30-odd interviews I conducted with successful expats in Thailand was that when it comes to finding work in Thailand, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Without fail, almost every single expat cited networking in Bangkok as one of the key reasons they managed to land their job. Some even claimed that networking had opened up positions to them that were beyond their current qualifications or skill sets.
- Before Arriving
- Social Media
- How to Network
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There are good reasons for this. The relative lack of formal job-hunting infrastructure makes it hard to find good people through traditional channels, and the transitory nature of many expats means that employers value reliability and commitment more than they might in their own countries.
These qualities can be hard to evaluate using exam scores. After all, there’s not much you can do if your star programmer decides to hop on a plane and go home halfway through your latest project.
Getting to know the right people, then, is as vital as holding the right certificates or a sufficient amount of experience when it comes to finding work in Bangkok.
In the following guide, we’ll look at some of the most effective ways to establish a network in Bangkok.
You don’t have to be in Thailand to start making contacts. There are a number of ways you can start building your network before you’ve even stepped on the plane.
The simplest way to start networking is to reach out to people you already know. Thailand is an extremely popular destination for a lot of expats, so it’s not entirely implausible that you’ll know people working here already.
A quick trawl through your Facebook (or other social media) contacts may potentially turn up some surprises. They don’t even have to be working in Thailand–if they’ve worked in the country for a reasonable length of time in the past, chances are they’d have built up a list of contacts who may still be in the country and can be reached out to.
Professional contacts can also be useful sources for making connections, with the added advantage that those connections will more than likely be in your chosen field of employment. Even if they’re not, the expat communities in many Thai cities–even Bangkok–tend to be tight-knit, and it’s not unusual for expats of different professions to socialize together, so even a professional contact in a totally unrelated field could prove helpful.
The wider you cast your net, the better contacts you’re going to make.
Making Connections Through Work
If you work for a multinational company with a branch in Thailand, chances are that you’ll have a network of fellow employees already set up and waiting for you. It’s a good idea to reach out to and get to know these employees beforehand to make your transition to Thailand easier.
Perhaps the most effective means of networking–and certainly the most comfortable, as it can be done while lying on your bed while wearing pants and eating Doritos–is to make contacts via social media.
There are a huge number of social media sites out there for professionals looking to meet like-minded folks. I’ll break down some of the most relevant corners of the social media sphere for those seeking contacts in Thailand.
Thailand’s expat community is well-represented on Facebook, with a large number of groups covering just about every imaginable niche. Some of the biggest groups include the following:
Bangkok Expats is a 60,000+ member-strong Facebook group, providing a space for expats in the kingdom’s capital to post apartment rentals, job adverts, news, rumors, gossip, and the occasional mindless ramble.
It’s a good place to organize meetups or to seek general advice from those in the know, although its sheer size and diversity of users makes it prone to the usual problems that afflict all big online groups (trolling, bickering, false information, and so on).
Bangkok Entrepreneurs is a dedicated group for local and expat entrepreneurs. In addition to general advice and discussion, the group also contains frequent meetups and seminars for both professional and aspiring entrepreneurs. Also for entrepreneurs, there’s Drinktrepreneurs, which hosts frequent boozy meetups and other events.
Thailand Professionals is, as the name suggests, a slightly more focused group aimed solely at professional expats. It’s much smaller than Bangkok Expats (currently boasting about 12,000 members), but its size and focus make it a little calmer and friendlier.
Teaching Jobs in Thailand
Teaching Jobs in Thailand is a large group (currently at over 30,000 members) which focuses–unsurprisingly–on the teaching community in Thailand. In addition to the standard job adverts, the group is also an open discussion board for general questions about work in the education sector.
The Actors Association of Thailand
If you’re looking to work in the entertainment or modeling industries, a good starting spot is The Actors Association of Thailand, a jobs and meetup page for actors, models, and so on.
Linkedin, the “social network for professionals,” is an excellent tool for networking with people in your chosen field. Opening an account is straightforward and once activated you’ll be available for potential future employers to peruse your details.
With thousands of users already jostling for positions, one drawback of Linkedin is that in can be a little hard to get noticed. However, this can be mitigated with a little know-how.
There are plenty of online guides to what is dubbed Linkedin SEO (Search Engine Optimization), which contain advice ranging from the straightforward (include as much information as possible) to the technical (avoid slashes in keywords because Linkedin’s search engine doesn’t recognize them). A good example can be found at JobHunt.org.
To give yourself a slight edge, you may consider signing up for Linkedin Premium, which allows you to message people outside your network. There are no guarantees, but taking the extra initiative to contact your chosen employer directly will help you stand out from the crowd.
A useful way to build up a public profile–particularly for those seeking work in the media–is to open an Instagram account. The site’s wide reach and massive popularity in Thailand makes it a good place to showcase some of your work, as well as to meet like-minded individuals.
Once you’ve arrived in Thailand, you’re going to want to start meeting people face-to-face. If the methods we’ve discussed so far have yet to produce anything solid, there are a number of ways you can go out and make some useful connections.
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to networking events in Bangkok. There are frequent meetups for people involved in just about every field of employment–so many that it can be a little disorientating. The following are some good places to start.
Eventbrite is a ticketing and events platform that provides organizers with all the tools necessary to arrange and promote events. These can include anything from conferences and seminars to yoga classes and bar-crawls.
As you’d expect, Bangkok’s professional groups are well-represented here, and seminars, conferences, and other meetups are posted frequently, many of which are free to enter.
Meetup.com is another popular platform for organizing events, although it tends to be aimed at more of a general crowd than a professional one. Still, its events are many and varied, ranging from public speaking classes to Zuma, and are a good way to go out and meet people.
Do keep in mind, however, that you’re more likely to meet tourists than fellow professionals at many of these events.
Bilateral Chambers of Commerce
Thailand’s many Bilateral Chambers of Commerce often host networking events, providing a great chance to meet some members of Thailand’s already established expat business community. A full list of Chambers can be found on the Joint Foreign Chambers of Commerce Thailand’s website.
A more direct means of making connections with other professionals in your field is to attend a recruitment fair. These tend to be fairly informal affairs in which it’s entirely possible to strike up a conversation and land a job the same day if you’re made of the right stuff. Even if you’re not quite that successful, it’s a good way to score a few contacts.
Here are a couple of the bigger fairs, both for those working in education. Note that there are plenty of one-off recruitment fairs for other fields, of which a quick Google search or browse of Facebook groups like Bangkok Expats will reveal.
Search Associates is a recruitment organization for international school educators. They host annual (and sometimes bi-annual) recruitment fairs in a number of cities across the world, including Bangkok. Typically a fair can have up to 130 employers present, as well as some 600 candidates seeking work.
Entrance to a fair is by invitation only, which can be secured by signing up as a member of Search Associates via the website linked above. Signing up can be a pretty involved process, including submitting a number of forms and a paying a membership fee.
You’re also expected to hold a teaching qualification (e.g PGCE/MEd). However, once you’re successfully signed up as a member, the fair itself is said to be a much more relaxed affair.
International Schools Service
International Schools Service, or ISS, is another recruitment company in a similar vein to Search Associates. They also hold a number of recruitment fairs which are, again, invitation only.
ISS’s fairs seem to offer a greater variety of jobs than Search Associates– in addition to teachers, they also offer positions for counselors or librarians. A typical fair can boast as many as 150 schools, in both Thailand and beyond.
Another good potential “in” when it comes to meeting people is volunteering. In Thailand, there are no shortage of projects you can get involved in. These projects range from helping to take care of elephants to assisting vulnerable women.
Some career-specific opportunities include:
The organization Love Volunteers offers an internship program for medical students, allowing them to work closely with a physician at either a public or private Thai hospital and to shadow a full-time doctor on their daily rounds.
Love Volunteer’s website is quick to point out that all doctors who’ve signed up for the program speak excellent English, and that it provides a much more thorough behind-the-scenes learning experience than would be provided in most Western countries.
You’ll need to have a medical background of some kind, even if you’re a medical undergrad. The internship costs around $940.
The organization GVI USA offers a unique opportunity for volunteers to assist on an expedition to the stunning coastal region of Phang Nga.
As a volunteer, you’ll be helping to deal with the climate and conservation issues that the region faces, including biodiversity research, turtle conservation, and environmental education, making this a great opportunity to gain experience and make some useful connections for those seeking work in the science, conservation or marine biology fields.
Fees for the internship start at $2,195.
For more general volunteering opportunities, a good place to start is with the Friends for Asia Foundation.
How to Network
Knowing where to go is one thing, but actually meeting people and making contacts is another thing altogether. As we all know, social interaction can be a minefield at times.
Who do I approach? What if I say the wrong thing? What do I have to offer these people, and what do they have that they can offer me? And how do I get that across without sounding needy, or arrogant, or as if I’m only thinking about my career?
Obviously we can’t promise to turn you into Don Draper or anything, but here’s some advice to help your networking run a little smoother.
Where to Meet People
First, realize that there are few places that are totally off-limits when it comes to networking (well, except for urinals, perhaps). You can make contacts everywhere and anywhere.
Don’t be afraid to start up a conversation with the stranger sitting next to you on the bus or on the queue at the sandwich shop, particularly if you overhear a particularly relevant conversation that you feel you could jump in on.
Obviously, don’t throw self-awareness completely to the wind–do recognize when it’s clear that people don’t want to be disturbed and act accordingly.
That being said, some places are more likely to yield better results than others. Meeting people during leisure activities can often be more effective than meeting people at professional events. Not only do you have something in common with that person at the gym, but they may work in a different field and it gives you the chance to expand your network in a different direction.
You’re also no longer under pressure to make work contacts, so the process of socializing is much more natural and easier. And best of all, chances are you’re enjoying yourself, too.
Joining a sports team or taking part in a collaborative creative effort (life drawing, open mics, etc.) is a great way to meet new people and to build a sense of camaraderie with strangers.
Coffee shops are also a good place to make some new contacts. It’s pretty common for people to use coffee shops as a workspace. Noticing that person next to you is also into web design is a great conversation starter.
Finally, if you’re a drinker, don’t discount that oldest of networking venues–the humble bar. Alcohol is a great social lubricant, making it easy to start up conversations. Do remember to drink responsibly, though. Alcohol’s tongue-loosening powers do make it easier to say something you’ll regret later.
How To Approach People
So you’re in a coffee shop, or yoga class, or networking event. Potential contacts who could make or break your career are swarming all around you. How do you make that all-important first move?
Here are some useful ideas for putting yourself out there.
Remember, chances are none of the people here know you yet. How do you expect to make yourself known to them if you hide in a corner sipping a drink?
It can be a bit jarring, but you’ve got to suck up the courage and put yourself out there. Put on your best smile and stand somewhere central, where you can be seen. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact with people–they won’t bite!
Open With a Question
No one likes a braggart. Starting a conversation by gushing about your achievements is a sure way to turn people off immediately. Show some interest in the person you’re talking to by asking about them. It doesn’t have to be anything deep or personal.
“How are you enjoying the conference?” or “How did you get into (insert career here)?” are always nice, neutral icebreakers.
Show Genuine Interest
Chances are that there’s something interesting about the person you’re speaking to. Maybe they invented some unique marketing technique that has since become industry standard practice. Maybe they once took a bullet for the president.
Zero in on what they seem to be passionate about and don’t just wait for your turn to speak. Act interested. Ask good follow-up questions, maintain eye contact (don’t drift off to the TV in the corner of the room) and ensure they know you’re giving them your undivided attention.
Have an Elevator Speech
An elevator speech is a concept which developed in the tech field that states that you should be able to express any truly good idea in the time it takes to ride in an elevator.
You need to have a snappy, thirty-second pitch describing what you’re about, what you’re working on and what you hope to achieve. Remember, if you’re at a networking event the odds are that those around you will be talking to a heck of a lot of people. They don’t have time to listen to your unabridged autobiography. Keep it short and intriguing.
Building and Maintaining Connections
There are two schools of thought on effective networking that can be summed up briefly as either “quantity over quality” or “quality over quantity.”
In short, it’s either better to amass as many contacts as possible, or to focus purely on nurturing a few good contacts. Those in favor of the former would argue that it’s best to have lots of contacts in lots of different fields on the basis that you “never know when you’re going to need someone.”
Those in favor of the latter would argue that only a handful of connections are truly capable of making a difference in your career, and it’s best to keep up good relations with those people instead of burning yourself out trying to keep everyone happy.
Personally, I’d lean towards the “quality over quantity” side of things. I think good relationships with good people are not only healthier from a social perspective, but can also reap better rewards further down the line. Here’s how to effectively build and maintain a good list of contacts.
Narrow Down Your Network
Consultant Andrew Sobel states that you should be able to narrow your network down to about twenty quality contacts, who he describes as the critical few. These are the people who you feel have (or potentially could) help you most in your career.
You should be doing everything you can to stay in touch with these people–meet up frequently, find out their interests (e.g head out for a game of golf with them), and so on.
Don’t Neglect Your Network
However, at the same time, don’t completely neglect the rest of your network. As was stated above, you never know when you might need these people. But more importantly, it’s just good manners. A birthday or Christmas card, the occasional email, or a brief chat on Facebook can show you still care.
Invest Time in Your Contacts
Following on from this, make sure you invest some time in your contacts before asking for anything from them. This shouldn’t just be done for cynical reasons (i.e I’ll help you now if you help me in the future).
Maintaining good relationships is eventually its own reward. Go above and beyond to help the people in your network. Make recommendations, connect them to others in similar fields, and so on. The positive feelings you generate will help make future business relationships run a lot smoother.