A few years ago, I was flying from Bucharest, the capital of Romania, to Cluj-Napoca. I was going to a job fair, where I hoped to find my dream job. The flight was supposed to take less than an hour. It was cloudy and windy. Our plane was waiting for clearance to take off. Meanwhile, I was patiently sitting in my window seat.
Next to me, a gentleman was reading an interesting brochure. It was in my domain of expertise. After he finished reading, I said: “That’s an interesting topic you were reading about. I’m also interested in it. What do you think about the latest news about so and so…?”
As I expected, he was more than willing to talk about our common subject. The 1-hour wait (longer than the flight itself) was a pleasure. During the flight, I told him about my education, about the fact that I’m going to a job fair and that I hope to get my dream job. He instantly became enthusiastic. He was a general manager for a company in the industry and was looking to hire somebody with an education like mine.
What happened? I was made an offer before we landed.
It was incredible luck, or maybe not so much. My first networking experience was, however, a great success. I haven’t even been to another job fair. My day was accomplished before it began.
Now, I keep reminding people how networking happens everywhere. Why? Because humans are social creatures. So, networking is an innate trait for us. It helps us connect and survive in an ocean of unfamiliar people.
I’m from Romania, where business and networking have their own flavor. I’d like to give you a look at the evolution of networking in Romania, the very interesting European country that 30 years ago went from a totalitarian communist regime to a capitalist market.
Situated in Eastern Europe, Romania is the largest Balkan country. It has an area of 238,000 sq. km (92,000 sq. miles) and 19.5 million inhabitants. The labor force is made up of 8.7 million active workers. The average gross wage in Romania was around 1,100 USD/month in January 2019, while the average net income was approx. 650 USD/month.
Technology is a primary growth driver for the country.
Global software companies like Oracle, Amazon, IBM, and Deutsche Bank readily employ Romanian software developers. They are paid a fraction of what these skills receive in Western Europe, while maintaining excellent product quality. Romania’s also an emerging hub in the industry of business services.
So how did Romanians adapt in less than 30 years to a new way of networking and doing business?
In communist Romania, people had few options to create their own network of acquaintances. All of them were under strict governmental supervision. When you were little, you were a “hawk of the homeland” then a “pioneer” in gymnasium.
In high school and early youth, you were part of the UTC (the youth branch of the communist party). Through these types of organizations, young people were networking and would be given the privileged jobs in the future.
Up to the late ’80s, every graduate received a governmental repartition. If you were a professor, you were assigned to a school. If you were an engineer, you’d have received a job in that industry, and so on.
This distribution was based mainly on the individual’s academic performance. However, party-related networking was helpful too.
Symposiums (conferences) were not accessible, involving mainly experienced engineers and academics. Party members, well seen by the leadership, could go abroad and access better positions in the company.
Each coffee break is a good opportunity to interact with other participants, speakers and event partners. Nevertheless, this is not all networking means in today’s Romania. From matchmaking services to online mentors, the range of possibilities is enormous.
Matchmaking – is a type of services that recently appeared on the national market. It can take the form of recommendations, references or special meetings at a lunch, dinner or breakfast with a group of less than five people. The matchmakers are usually niche companies, specialized in various sectors (IT, energy, startups, etc.).
Personal brand – If it’s a sure thing in this area, it’s that the relationship with the relevant people is influenced by our image, reputation and by everything we do or say.
It’s safe to say that the majority of Romanians with internet access have an online social media account. Very few, however, use it as a means to improve their careers or business contacts.
LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram are great ways to develop a professional network through the power of a personal brand.
Digitalization – After an interesting conversation, business cards are the classical way to be remembered by the other person. It’s relatively old-school, but it definitely has a digital future.
As in many areas, Romanians are eager to try new technologies or apps. Business card organizers and professional networking platforms (such as Eight) are rapidly gaining ground in corporate environments from Bucharest, to Cluj-Napoca, Timisoara, and Sibiu.
CRMs – Customer relationship management (CRM) software (in fact, a data bank organized in a certain way) stores all relevant information about those you are targeting (to be hired by, to do business with or to hire).
The input information is related to who they are, who is in contact with them, where they are walking, where they write, what they read, what is happening, etc. If there are more (two, three contributors) who have similar networking goals, they can feed this data bank simultaneously from multiple directions and use everything that the others add.
Online mentoring – The best jobs are given first. The brightest candidates are recruited before graduating. The most profitable business opportunities are obtained if you have at least an acquaintance level of personal relationship with the other party.
Because of this, networking in all its shapes is necessary for managers and entrepreneurs. Some of them need guidance, so online mentoring services are booming.
The mentors are generally local, with services extended abroad in Western European countries or North America.
Top 10 things to note when doing business with Romanians
- Most Romanian businesses are set up as limited liability companies (LLCs) – which, from a tax perspective, pay the same flat, 16% corporate rate as all other business structures.
- The working week is Monday to Friday, and business hours tend to be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Pretty standard. Lunch break might not be included, so the business hours can be from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- The language of business is generally Romanian, although many people also speak other major European languages such as English, French or German.
- Shaking hands when meeting business partners is customary and neglecting to do so would be seen as an insult.
- Don’t make jokes about the communist regime or Roma people (gypsies).
- Don’t be late for meetings. If it can’t be avoided, at least call ahead and apologize.
- Don’t brag about your achievements or make exaggerated claims.
- Be direct, but sensitive. Focus on the business, unless otherwise prompted.
- Giving small gifts to business partners is considered polite and is common.
- Romanians have a reputation for being hospitable and are generally known to be friendly toward foreigners.
Overall, the Romanian business and networking landscape has changed significantly in the past decades.
People are generally positive and willing to collaborate. Even if some might be shy in the coffee breaks at conferences, you can be the one who breaks the silence and introduces yourself.
That’s totally OK.
What will follow is almost guaranteed to be a great conversation with a well-spoken person who’s intelligent and open to new collaborations.
This article was contributed by Gabriel Simion in Romania.