Networking 104: Avoid Rookie Mistakes

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[Guest blog post] concept and writing by Rossi Walter for Ikigai Connections

Welcome back to the networking series here on Ikigai Connections.

After reading “Networking 103: Preparing for Online-only Networking”, you may have taken some time to reflect on your specific goals and started researching your target company or industry leaders. You may have come across many different kinds of individuals with diverse professional backgrounds.

On our networking journey, we will very likely encounter different types of professionals—this can be an asset. Whether corporate professionals who work internationally, small businesses who import from Japan, or folks in the regional non-profit space, we never know where our next opportunity might come from! It pays to keep an open mind. 

In every case, when networking online we want to avoid basic mistakes that can hinder our success. Here are 3 such mistakes—and our advice for how to avoid them.

Avoid These 3 Rookie Mistakes

Rookie mistake 1: losing a written draft

Instead, take measures to protect your effort by working in a digitally secure location. 

For example, a digital document hosted by a dedicated platform, e.g. Google docs, is reliable and automatically saves your work. Using Microsoft Word or other software is fine, too, but be sure to check how the document is being saved. Is your draft being saved to your computer’s local hard drive only when you click “Save”? Or, is it being automatically saved to a cloud database at set intervals? 

While some platforms do automatically save email drafts, it is not uncommon for users to report such unsent emails vanishing into thin air. When that happens, they are left with nothing except memories, tears (with or without expletives), and less patience for the next draft. Let’s work smart and save ourselves the time and trouble by securing our work.

Rookie mistake 2: prematurely sending a draft

Instead, remove the address from the “To:” field and save it elsewhere, like in the “Subject” field , in a digital memo, or on a piece of paper. 

It happens to the best of us—we accidentally hit that “Send” button or activated a keyboard shortcut that we didn’t know about. Even with recent features that delay the actual sending of the email by as much as 30 seconds, our recommendation is to not rely on these “emergency” settings. Better to remove the risk altogether from the start by removing the recipient’s email address. 

This also means taking care when re-inserting the recipient’s email address. When your networking email is ready, check any names for spelling errors. Misspelling our recipient’s name is embarrassing and demonstrates a lack of attention—not the kind of first impression we want to make. (Also, making this mistake in an email address is a good way to ensure that our message will never be received.) This caution about names becomes especially important when building connections with Japanese colleagues in Japanese. 

☆ Interlude: when nihongo gets even more nihongo

Anyone who has done it might agree that networking and communicating in Japanese requires great care, arguably more so than methods commonly seen in the U.S. The differences between the two worlds is a whole industry on its own (seriously). Without getting into all that, being aware of some aspects of Japanese in general might help us understand how to take great care when using Japanese in our correspondence

For starters, are we already aware that the Japanese language uses three types of characters?
hiragana (ひらがな・平仮名)
katakana (カタカナ・片仮名), and
kanji (漢字), or Chinese characters adopted for use in Japanese

If yes, then we will know that the use of any one of them, or all three of them, is not straightforward at all! Certain words will almost always appear in one or the other, and although not following those patterns probably won’t be a dealbreaker, being aware of the differences can make our messages easier (or not) to read for our Japanese audience.

Oh, but when it comes to kanji: are we also aware that each kanji almost always has multiple ways to pronounce, or “read” it? And that these pronunciations usually include both onyomi (音読み) readings that point to the original Chinese pronunciation, and kunyomi (訓読み) readings that are unique to nihongo?

Do we also know that both onyomi and kunyomi readings are used interchangeably in everyday spoken and written nihongo? And are we aware that, in addition to onyomi and kunyomi, many kanji also come with nanori (名乗り), which are special—often irregular— ways to read a kanji, and used exclusively when that character appears in a person’s name? 

And for those of us deeply familiar with kanji, have we noticed, too, that some kanji are more commonly used in names and not in other, non-name words? 

Did we know that many common Japanese names—especially given names—are often created from unique combinations of kanji characters that include ateji(当て字), which Google correctly reports as being “kanji used to phonetically represent native or borrowed words with less regard to”—or apparent disregard for—“the underlying meaning of the characters” themselves? (Basically, people can use kanji however they want for names. Fun, yes. Confusing, also yes.)

We can begin to see how easily mistakes can be made, for beginner Japanese learners and natives alike. To avoid them, it will help us to check two places: the Japanese meishi and the honsha’swebsite. 

Japanese Meishi

Meishi (名刺) are Japanese business cards, the original social networking long before LinkedIn. These little paper cards provide the job title and essential contact information of a person. Meishi include a person’s last and first name (in that order for meishi printed in Japanese), and sometimes furigana (振り仮名) above the name to clarify pronunciation. Occasionally, meishi will have an English version of the same information on the reverse side. 

If we have the good fortune to receive meishi from someone, then we would do well to closely check the printed information and safely store the card for reference. This is true regardless of whether that person works within our field of interest. Doing so is considered good meishi manners, and keeping all meishi that you receive will come in handy especially considering the relatively tightly-knit business society of Japan.

Company website

To avoid making kanji spelling errors, checking the main company (honsha, 本社) website can help. The official website gives us the most correct way to address a person in Japanese and/or in English

Be aware that Japanese companies and companies that operate between Japan and other countries may have two versions of their website, one in Japanese and one in English, with different URLs. Checking the information published on both is recommended, since translations are often imperfect, details might differ between the two web pages, and one page might be updated more often than the other. (Also, in our experience, the information found on a Japanese company’s English website is often found in astonishingly greater detail on the Japanese version.) 

One more thing to know is that depending on the person’s role within the company, their name might not be published anywhere online. In that case, checking social media such as LinkedIn might provide enough information to help us address that person correctly. However, the people whom we do find online might be top leaders within the company, e.g. founders, presidents, and CEOs. Being aware of those people is important. It is also important to be practical about whom we want to connect with in the early stages of our networking effort.

Finally, on the topic of who’s who, let’s make sure that our email is going to the appropriate individual. For example, let’s say we have taken an interest in ABC Company and their latest projects with Japanese and North American exchange students. When we reach out to connect, our message would probably be better directed at the Program Coordinator for Educational Exchanges rather than the company auditor, whose email address just happened to be the first one that we saw on the company website. 

This brings us to our third and final tip.

Rookie mistake 3: sending a single-shot email

Instead, go for the buzz! Try to get your email seen by multiple individuals or departments within a company.

However, we need to be smart and respectful about how we do that. To give you an idea about what that might look like, here are two scenarios to consider.

In Scenario 1, we have Shandra, an intelligent and skilled individual who wants to practice her Japanese language and intercultural exchange skills. She decides to volunteer for the Japan-America Society (JAS) in her hometown of Washington D.C. Shandra has received no meishi and no networked contacts. Shandra wants to reach out to the JAS via an email composed in English.

In this scenario, sending an email to a company email address that begins with something like info@, events@ or community@ would be appropriate. Such email addresses are often published on a public website. Within a single company, volunteering opportunities might be managed by different departments, so including their email addresses in the “To:” field is reasonable. 

About the message itself, Shandra might begin by asking for assistance like this

Hello, my name is Shandra. I am a local resident of D.C. who is interested in volunteering for your organization. I wasn’t sure which email address to write to, and would appreciate being referred to the appropriate department.

Scenario 2 is the same as above, but this time Shandra has received the meishi of a JAS staff member, someone whom she met last year at a local Japanese festival in her city. 

In this scenario, it is recommended to first contact the individual who gave Shandra their contact information. Shandra has met the staff member directly, and although she may not fully understand their role in the organization as a whole, she can be sure that this person has valuable information about the company and how it operates. For this reason, Shandra should first contact the staff member directly to get some advice about how to proceed.

However we make that first contact, we need to be mindful of what we are asking and how it might be perceived by those on the receiving end of our message. People are busy, everyone in their own ways. Ignoring networking emails received in the “cold call” style, i.e. suddenly and with little to no previous context, is easy and fast. People are also forgetful—they meant to reply, and even snoozed the email to check it later, but they forgot. So, how to avoid slipping from their attention? 

Refer to the first scenario. Like Shandra, we can use the “Cc:” (“Carbon copy”) feature to include several departments for which the content of our email might be relevant. And remember the previous example with ABC Company? In that case, adding the address of the Student Outreach Coordinator as well as the address for receiving general inquiries (usually something like info@CompanyName.com) into the “Cc:” field would be appropriate. 

Review

Now we know what not to do when writing our networking messages

  • (1) DO NOT write it as an email draft that could vanish into thin air.
  • (2) DO NOT keep the recipient’s email in the “To:” field while we write.
  • (3) DO NOT be afraid (but DO be wise) when including several departments in our email.

And we are now ready to forge ahead into “Networking 105: Nuts and Bolts” (blog post coming soon in the summer of 2024!) to learn the nitty-gritty tips for actually writing our email. See you there.

Connect with Rossi on LinkedIn. For inquiries related to editing, proofreading, and even general conversations about life in Japan, please email: hellorossiwalter@gmail.com.

Be sure to check out the other articles in this networking series: Networking 101, Networking 102, Networking 103, and Networking in Japan: How to Find a Job in Japan as an LGBTQIA+ Person

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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