Self-marketing overseas: The overwhelming American business culture and how to cope with it

SELF-MARKETING OVERSEAS: THE OVERWHELMING AMERICAN BUSINESS CULTURE AND HOW TO COPE WITH IT

It just happened again: Cultural shock. I went to a blog related business lunch workshop and was totally overwhelmed by the American culture.

Their self-marketing capabilities left me speechless and the cultural difference of how to present oneself is bigger than I ever thought.

Hence, I really started to think about my self-marketing skills and how important it is to actually adopt oneself to compete in the American business world.

So what are the core differences in our private and business culture? How vital is self-marketing in the American business culture? And how can I as an Expat adopt to my new surrounding in order to be perceived as a valuable and competent  business partner?

FIRST STEP: MINGLE WITH THE LOCALS

I am doing a lot of these business networking events lately in order to improve my skills but also to meet new people. To find and book these kinds of events I am using the platform Dabble. A great web service which inspires you to take classes in all different kind of areas. Today was my 4th event and I can definitely recommend it.

In my experience, it’s a perfect way to meet locals. To get to know new people I used to go to International Events organized by companies such as InterNations but I thought it’s time to mingle with the real locals – the Americans.

CULTURAL SHOCK IN A PRIVATE CONTEXT

After a couple of months in the States I am already very familiar with the American culture on a personal level.

I met Americans during my several journeys and for sure back home in Chicago and I can proudly check off some vital points of all cultural stereotypes:

  • Ask all the strangers how they are doing and do the whole small talk procedure. Reply that you are also feeling great, awesome and outstanding no matter on your actual state of mind.
  • Be assured by people that meeting you has been great and so amazing and never hear back from your potential future BFF
  • Promise and get promised that you will definitely call and stay in touch and never do so
  • Get a squeaky high voice when raving about the latest theater piece or restaurant you discovered and use as many bloomy words as possible
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Photo by Frank Mckenna

Of course, this is a very exaggerated summary and it just shows a very small part of the American culture. There are tons of attributes I absolutely love:

  • No one will ever care what you are wearing outside on the street. You can fully express your personality with your personal hair and fashion style and no one would look you up and down as it happens way too often in Europe
  • People love handing out compliments and cheer themselves up
  • Most people will sweeten your waiting time in a long queue with an entertaining chat just trying to make the best of this moment
  • You will always get your daily dose of talking to other people just by going shopping at Target or any other store
  • Most Americans are excited when they find out that you are coming from another country. Most of the times they also know some German words and they are more than happy to demonstrate it right away

 

So, I really made some progress on the personal level. I understand the differences, I know when a person tells me he or she will call and never do so and I have already started to fade in.

However, after this business lunch, I once again got aware of the fact that I am still not ready for the business or let’s say semi-business side of it. Self-marketing is a real strength of Americans.

CULTURAL SHOCK IN THE BUSINESS WORLD

America is famous for its everything is possible attitude. After living here, I can say it is definitely not fake. Las Vegas is fake, a portion of body parts around the pool during summertime is fake but this vital part of the American culture is not.

It’s an essential part of the American DNA and something I really admire. I have the feeling that mothers are not nursing their babies with breastmilk but entrepreneurial spirit.

The moment they realize they have an interest in something they go for it. And by that, I mean they really own it

You can talk to somebody late in the evening about how you really like the reindeer sweater a person is wearing and the next day this person has opened up an e-commerce shop for Christmas sweaters and is handing out business cards while the LinkedIn profile says: CEO and Founder of X-Mas Sweaters.com

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Photo by Hello I’m Nik

They just skip the phase of crunching the numbers and analyzing a market but start immediately. I can definitely see the advantage of that. By skipping the theoretical phase there is no time to worry about the potential pitfalls. Somehow it is like telling your friends you will be running a marathon. The moment it’s out there you can’t take it back and if you won’t start with your running schedule now you have to exchange your friends.

 

In order to succeed with that strategy, you have to create a lot of noise. Entirely in line with the credo Fake it till you make it, you advertise yourself and your business strongly from the very first second.

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Probably this is the pure essence of our cultural difference. Americans are masters of the fake it till you make it game while we Germans struggle with their self-marketing a lot. We work in completely different rhythms. Germans like to analyze, understand and challenge a task before we really own it. The American is more disruptive. By skipping the vital “thinking” phase and rushing directly to the “making phase” he will fail 9 in 10 times but the 1 time he is not failing he will succeed heavily and has the potential of becoming a big player in his field by learning on the go.

 

While this phenomenon can be currently observed within all the old industries which are now being disrupted, it has also a strong impact on me as a private person applying for the American job market.

SIMPLE EXAMPLE ABOUT SELF-MARKETING DIFFERENCES:

When I talk with an American about our LinkedIn profiles we both would say that everything on it is absolutely true. I am telling on my CV that I have Digital Marketing Experience as I have worked in that field for over 5 years. An American would say so because he or she visited the Marketing Lunch Workshop with me but would absolutely feel no shame in doing so.

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Photo by rawpixel.com

Two of the newer skills I learnt more lately are InDesign and Photoshop. Recently I did two 3-days workshops and I am using these programs almost daily. However, I would not yet state that on my German CV as my experience is not as thorough yet as I want it to be. On the other hand, my InDesign teacher told me right after a couple of hours in our workshop that I should instantly put that as a skill on my profile and connect with her so that she as an InDesign expert can acknowledge my new talent publicly.

This is an important attribute of the American culture. You build each other up and create something out of nothing. Even if that means that the spoken and written word loses its relevance.

SUPREME DISCIPLINE OF SELF-MARKETING: THE SALES PITCH

 Another thing Americans are really good at is the personal sales pitch. I find it amazing how naturally they present themselves in front of others. Every occasion is used to state the university someone went to and the amazing job they just landed, not to mention the two start-up that almost worked out.

Most of all, I admire how passionately they identify themselves with their current employer. There was this one guy at the business lunch who is a perfect example of how you can turn a 2-minute introduction into a self-marketing tool while also praising the current company to the skies. Apparently, you are who you work for.

The German me was sitting there only giving away some basic information like: Just moved here, recently started my own blog about being an Expat Wife and here to learn something about how to be better ranked on Google.

My American counterpart however really owned his 2 minutes. A showpiece of real self-marketing.

What he did was basically selling himself and the company he is working for to the business lunch audience. All the things I learned from his personal 2-minute pitch:

  • The name of his university and why it’s the best in his field.
  • What exactly he studied and what courses shaped his mindset the most.
  • All the experience he brought with him before joining his current employer
  • Selling insights into his current employer: We are the best in that field….our clients are….we serve the highest customer value… Closing with the selling line: You name it – we do it
  • How extremely (!) grateful he is that he can be here today. How much he appreciates that everyone of us is here and that we have such a nice person teaching us something for the next 60 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that this is a bad thing. It’s just so different to my own culture that I could never do that to this extent without losing my own cultural identity. Just speaking these words in my head makes me feel arrogant and narcissistic. And while this is of course also a personal character trait it is a part of my culture and the business world I grew up with. However, I acknowledge that adopting some of these strengths would also help people back in Germany including myself to increase the awareness and to improve our self-branding.

THE OBSTACLE OF SUCCESSFUL SELF-MARKETING: THE DIFFERENT VALUE OF WORDS

Another cultural difference I am still struggling with is that we use the same words in different ways. In my German vocabulary, I seldom include words like amazing and outstanding. These is really reserved for distinctive things that not happen regularly and are really outstanding in a sense.

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In the US, these adjectives are really used very generously. When the business lunch speaker tells you he or she will send the presentation slides along it is amazing! Back in Germany this would be normal, expected but still I would say thanks, that’s helpful for example. Here I should rather say Oh cool, awesome, thank you so much! so that I won’t seem impolite.

I guess the different usage of these vital adjectives is one of the main reasons why Americans think that Germans are kind of cold and practical. However, if a German tells you amazing you should really take notes as this is a seldom compliment and you are actually doing a great job then!

MY PERSONAL STRUGGLE WITH SELF-MARKETING: SELLING MYSELF ON A BUSINESS LEVEL

All these differences combined lead to the fact that it is indeed very hard to market myself on a business level. My personality stands in the way of over-stressing my competences without feeling arrogant and my vocabulary will not help to actually sell the competences I am proud of.

Recently, I stumbled over a company looking for new applicants, presenting themselves as followed:

For me all these adjectives are so overdone and are hardly to find in a single person. At the end, this company could end up with 10 bold characters with a lot of grit but zero attachment to the company.

HOW TO IMPROVE SELF-MARKETING IN A COUNTRY WHERE EVERYBODY OWNS IT?

However to be honest it is too easy to blame it all on the cultural differences. To a great extent selling yourself is a character trait you are good at or not, as the case might be.

Moving to another country  (especially if you are a dependent) will alter your personal identity. If you quit your job to move abroad and you try to start over from scratch it can be a fruitful but also stressful process.

Hence, I can really recommend to assess your personality first before thinking about how to improve your self-marketing skills.

1. THE EVALUATION PROCESS

There are a couple of really useful links out there to start the self- evaluation process. One of the more sophisticated one is a paper by the consulting company Price Waterhouse Cooper.

 

Download link here: Personal Brand Workbook

The headlines of the chapter itself are so American that I think it’s a reasonable starting point:

 

  • Soar with your strengths
  • Weaken your weaknesses
  • Tap into your values
  • Pursue your passion
  • Define your purpose
  • Build your brand & make an impact

 

It’s a 40-page document which actually forces you to write down your personality on a piece of paper.

2. THE ADAPTION PROCESS

When you have positioned yourself, you should find the right vocabulary to present yourself on the right level. It’s a part of the adaption process.

My personal rule of thumb: Whenever I feel I am showing off – I am doing almost alright.

However, the vocabulary problem is not only a cultural issue but also an issue of fluency in a foreign language.  You always should have in mind that you also communicate with your facial expressions and gestures. An open smile and an interested posture can compensate for every word you have not exaggerated enough.

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Photo by Thought Catalog

3. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Last but not least it’s like everything you learn: You have to repeat and repeat and repeat it becomes second nature to you. The goal is that you don’t feel uncomfortable, searching for words and feeling way too stressed when it comes to an elevator pitch situation.

Some articles out there really recommend you to search for a high building and use the elevator to practice. I think that this hilarious. But hey – whatever works for you 🙂

HOW DO YOU COPE WITH THE AMERICAN BUSINESS CULTURE?

So, my question for you is: How is your experience with selling yourself as a personality abroad? Is it more difficult in another country? What cultural differences do you face and how do you manage to position yourself right?

 

Can’t wait to hear from your experiences.

If you are interested in more personal development topics and insights into the life of an Expat Wife check out my other blog posts!

 

 

Thanks for stopping by and sharing the love

Kate from Share the Love, expat, expat wife, expat life

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