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Putting Knowledge to Work in Vietnam

Saigon Toastmasters, 12 March 2011

I just got back in the second week of March from three weeks of job and business opportunity shopping in Vietnam, mostly in HCMC.

While in Vietnam I quickly experienced the limitations of my perspective in that:

  • I don’t speak Vietnamese.  I learned English is the international business language of Vietnam, while Vietnamese is required to deal with the government.
  • I didn’t know the complete rules of social engagement. I learned the Vietnamese spend a lot of time on small talk and sometimes never move on from there. Making a mistake in the business part of a conversation that would be ignored in the US can be a deal breaker in Vietnam.
  • I didn’t know the best ways to follow up on my meetings. I learned that follow-ups are done with phone calls or text messages, while email is rarely acknowledged or replied to.
  • I didn’t know what caught the attention of potential employers. I learned that that titles and diplomas get more attention than in the US, and can open door in unexpected ways.

I scrambled for jobs and opportunities, learning as I went. In the event, I got more informational interviews and job offers in three weeks than I’ve had in two years in the Bay Area.

I spoke at two Toastmaster clubs (presently the only operating clubs in Vietnam), gave an impromptu speech at Citynetevents on the rooftop terrace of the New World Hotel in HCMC, taught a class on the 8 good habits of Google managers at Hong Bang University, mentored students in spoken English, and spoke with hundreds of people – in short, I had a great time.

How did I do it? I think these points build upon Pat McHenry Sullivan’s writings ( sum up what I did by:

  • Lowering my emotional barriers to give people ready access to me.
  • Working on being authentic: I said that I needed a job and needed it now.
  • Being present: I treated each day as the first day of my job search.
  • Turing my stress into energy: I can’t remember sleeping less and doing more in three weeks.
  • Putting aside my feelings of embarrassment for not speaking the language and not knowing the finer points of social and business etiquette.
  • Focusing on one objective: find a job.

The experiences taught me that today’s worries should not make my world stand still.

Stand up for what you need and find out how to get it.

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