How to Build a Social Circle from Scratch

One of the challenges that some of veteran expat friends and colleagues have had is building robust social and professional networks in their target cities abroad. This video will help the aspiring international careerist build a social and professional network from scratch.

You must learn how you can build diverse and thriving social circles in your target destinations from scratch if you plan on making moves in your desired career. In other words, if you’ve always wanted to go to some city but don’t know anyone there, I’m going to teach you how you can plant deep roots in this city from the beginning, throughout your stay, and long after you leave, so that the people in that metropolis will welcome you back with open arms every time you return.

There are two main topics I’m going to discuss here. The first one is a background and explanation of what exactly is going on, because taking a proactive and systematic approach to building targeted social networks and tribes in a new city is a bit unorthodox. In order for you to understand what you are doing and why, I have to explain what I mean in better detail. After this I’m going to give you some tips on how to best approach and blend into these groups, effectively planting your flag in different communities and sub-cultures in your target destination.

I’ll lay out a bit of a background here. When I first arrived in Shanghai, I moved into an apartment complex with dozens of American exchange students. My life was suddenly not much different than it would have been back at Penn. It was fun for the first few weeks but eventually I remembered that the entire point of my trip to Shanghai was to broaden my horizons, challenge myself, and meet a diverse group of internationals. I decided that I needed to branch out into different social circles and, since I didn’t have a pre-existing social circle in Shanghai, I had to build it from scratch.

This is all much easier than it sounds. If you and I are both American and run into each other at Penn Station, we don’t care that we’re both American. But if we ran into each other at a house party in the French Concession in Shanghai, we’d suddenly have a plethora of things to share with each other. People who come abroad are inherently pioneers in one way or another. They are explorers who’ve actively broken out of what their peer groups and what society tells them is the “right” path and definition of success.

These people are blazing their own trails and are usually interested in sharing their story as well as hearing yours. Indulge them. These tight knit expat communities abroad are a great resource and can be very useful – so your first instinct upon meeting people in your target destination should always be “how can I help this person out?” Always be thinking about how you can add value to the situation or that person’s life. The karma will come back around tenfold.

Through a combination of attending chamber of commerce events, meetup groups, Facebook events, and randomly running into interesting characters throughout my day (and especially at night), I began to build a diverse group of social circles outside of my study abroad group. This included representatives from the chamber of commerce, branch managers of multinationals, muay thai kickboxers, Koreans, Shanghainese, Chileans, Taiwanese, and Penn Alumni.

Does anyone else find it ironic that, because I spent so much time with Latin Americans, my Spanish improved more in Shanghai than my Mandarin?

Anyway – identify your background and any commonalities you might have with other groups who may be in your target city. Can you find them online and attend an event? and are two great places to start, although if you just google around a bit you will probably find some more targeted websites specific to certain demographics of people. Finding Penn alums, for example, was an easy thing to do, whereas meeting Korean expats was a bit more serendipitous.

I roughly break social circles into two groups – social and professional – which often mingle and mix more often than not. The best sources for these professional networks, I’ve found, have been at chamber of commerce events, embassy events, alumni networks, and at a group called “toastmasters” – which was originally created more for practicing public speaking but also a fantastic group of intelligent and diverse people that you should meet as soon as you can. Needless to say, making an effort to branch into this area will help you immensely with finding interviews and job opportunities if you have not come across any yet. If you are still in school or are a recent grad, you can intern or work at the embassy or chamber of commerce, which inevitably will give you practical and localized skills that can lead to new job opportunities or highly transferable skills back at home, if you choose to return.

Nightlife venues are generally the places where people go and mingle, although I don’t suggest that you rely on this alone to build your social network abroad. The problem with this is that, subconsciously, if you see the same people at clubs all the time, you will only associate each other with the nightlife scene and you probably won’t build a strong and sustainable relationship with anyone. I know this because I have “party friends” in all the cities I’ve been to. They call me up and text me to invite me out – but if I had to move to a new apartment and needed help, I’m sure they would flake on me.

Having party friends is fine, but you should strive to create deeper roots and relationships than that. A great way to do this, I’ve found, is to engage in athletic activities. My activity of choice is muay thai kickboxing, a brutal form of martial arts that utilizes strikes from the hands, elbows, knees, and legs. What’s good about activities instead of clubs is that you are interacting in an alcohol free environment, having coherent conversations you will remember the next day, and if you keep attending that activity you likely run into the same group of people. If the activity involves changing partners, such as tango or kickboxing, get to know your partner as you dance with or pummel him. You’ll find that you have more in common than you thought, besides bruises and black eyes.

Alternatively, learning how to dance salsa in your target destination is a highly underrated means of having multiple dates in one night – but for a fraction of the price you’d otherwise pay in both time and cash. You’ll also build a new skill set for yourself. TWO BIRDS – ONE STONE.

In the next episode, I’m going to teach you how to source multiple interview offers with companies in your target destination……all from the comfort of your home, in your pajamas, using skype and a pre-written pitch template. You’ll see that I’ve put Vin Diesel’s picture from the movie Boiler Room here, which I consider a great example of what a cold call pitch sounds like, although he’s a bit of a shady crook. In contrast, you’re going to be backing up your pitch with honest justifications.

You are setting yourself a foundation to create a life story worth compiling and telling to the world.

Creating social networking profiles for your  job search

Social media has become a highly popular tool for finding work abroad. Companies of all sizes around the world are now participating in at least one of the three major networking sites: Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. A recent study conducted by found that twenty-two percent of hiring managers peruse social media sites to identify possible candidates, with an additional nine percent planning to add social media to their recruitment methods in the near future. Although this survey was based on U.S. employers, companies the world over are now utilizing social media to identify new talent. A primary benefit of social networking sites is that they permit hiring managers to obtain a glimpse of the person behind the résumé rather than having to wait for an interview.

While work experience, skill set, and abilities remain important factors in hiring decisions, social networking profiles permit hiring managers to also evaluate whether candidates will be a fit in terms of company culture and work style. In this regard, close attention is paid to the overall first impression your profile provides which is evidenced by the words you use, design of your page (especially with regard to Twitter), as well as listings of your groups, pages, hobbies, and interests.

There are several strategies you may employ to promote your candidacy via social networking sites to attract the attention of hiring managers, no matter where in the world they may be located!

Be professional when creating your profile

Limit the information you provide in your profile to only that which you wouldn’t mind a potential employer viewing. Keep the overall tone warm and friendly, but professional and refrain from using slang, especially since you are targeting overseas employers. Ensure that any photos you post are in keeping with the professional image you wish to convey. One suggestion is to use a photo in which you are dressed as if you are going on an interview (which, in a way, you are!)

The best time to create a professional profile is BEFORE you launch a job search and submit résumés. Should you delay in removing questionable content, there is a good chance that potential employers have already viewed your profile. Think about it: the hiring manager has your résumé on his or her desk and is impressed by what you have written so decides to see if, by any chance, you have a profile on one of the sites. Make sure you don’t have pictures of that time you blacked out at the Weezy concert.

Connect carefully

Unless you create a private profile, visitors will be able to view a list of your friends or connections and review their profiles as well. As the saying goes, we tend to be “judged by the company we keep”, so employ some discretion in choosing who to connect with or, at least, hide your friend’s list.

Be selective with joining groups or “liking” Facebook pages”

While the primary purpose of social networking is to connect with others who share your interests, it will reflect well on your candidacy if your profile also shows evidence of membership in any community or professional associations, or volunteer activities that you participate in on a regular basis. These groups or volunteer activities do not necessarily need to be related to your career goals since most employers are simply trying to see some evidence of extracurricular involvement.

Avoid Negative Remarks about Current Employers

Avoid posting any insulting remarks about current employers. The only purpose this will serve is to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of potential employers that you are a “trouble-maker” who may one day post similar comments about their company as well.

Do Not Publicize Your Job Search

Just as potential employers may be perusing your profile, so too may your current boss if you employed! For this reason, it is wise strategy to keep your job search confidential and not post any comments related to it. The last thing you want is for your current supervisor to read of your job search since this could seriously jeopardize your continuing employment with the company.

Whether you are employed or not, you could change your privacy setting on Facebook so that only your “friends” are able to read your status updates with regard to your job search. However, for those of you who do have a job, there may be colleagues in your office who are part of your friends or connections list so still able to read your updates. Any one of these people could inadvertently (or “accidentally on purpose”) mention your job search to supervisors and jeopardize your job. Best policy is to take a “mum is the word” approach with regard to your job search!


In a very real way, your profile begins the interview process since employers are forming impressions of you as they read. With this in mind, take as much care with the content and design of your profile as you do with your attire for an interview!