We The Italians | Two Flags One Youth: 5 Tips to Network Successfully as a Student

Two Flags One Youth: 5 Tips to Network Successfully as a Student

Two Flags One Youth: 5 Tips to Network Successfully as a Student

  • WTI Magazine #135 Jan 16, 2021
  • 977

Networking in college as U.S students seems self-evidently burdensome. We have papers, midterms, extracurriculars, job applications, just to name a few. It seems to be even harder for Italian youngsters due to the negative perception society has for people who earn their way into the job market thanks to relationship. Raccomandati (‘the connected’), they call them. 

Truth be told, Italian society needs to get rid of this stereotype. There is nothing wrong with leveraging relationships to earn jobs when qualifications match the right criteria. Regardless, students from both countries have another, larger issue: they view networking as abstract, too hard, and a poor investment of time. Who can guarantee us that all the hours we spend building networks will culminate in concrete professional development? Truth be told, nobody can guarantee that. Just like nobody can guarantee you will win at anything whatsoever. I look at networking very, very differently. 

Firstly, networking is about creating mutual benefit and multiple streams of human capital available for the future. It is about building genuine, lasting relationships grounded on common exchange of value. Networking is not a financial transaction. The gains and losses of it are not crystal clear. However, proactive networking should be internalized as a way of life while a student and beyond. A life-style choice which manifests itself in every activity one pursues, every event, every class, and so on. Active networking gives you the chance to break traditional and hierarchical boundaries in the job market.

Here are five simple, practical, and direct networking tips for students who may be struggling to gain access to job market opportunities in both Italy and the United States.

1) Know Your Network.

Just like financial markets, you should be aware of what networks are open or closed to you right now. Which groups of people do you already have a connection to? Which communities of innovators do you want to gain access to in the future? Ask yourselves these questions, write out your responses on paper. Like with anything else, knowing where you stand is the first step. In the U.S, this is a little easier for students. Universities make a real effort to connect alumni networks and help graduating students build relationships via workshops, events, and much more. In Italy? Not so much. The country is still stuck in a mentality where ‘school is for studying’ and that is about it. Truth be told, that is not what 21st century education needs to look like. 

2) Nurture Current Relationships

Networking does not start with finding new people to meet. Networking starts with learning to value current relationships and establish more productive dialogue geared towards professional development. Look around, go through your contacts, who should you reach back out to? Which emails have you missed? Start there and practice, practice, practice. This holds true whether you are an Italian twenty-something year-old or an American one. Cultivate your networks.

3) Provide Value

This is probably the most important piece of advice I can offer. Many students are somewhat limited in their networking endeavors because they approach it as a one-way street. In other words, here is their thought process: “I’m going to reach out to X, because I want to get Y.” Wrong. People are not stupid. People see right through outright egoism. Mutual value is necessary. Both individuals need to contribute constructively to build a great working relationship. In the U.S, there a much strong emphasis on this concept. In Italy, instead, networking is still more informal. Students, and Italians in general, put all eggs in one basket: the personal side of networking. Professional networking is different: always provide tangible professional value in addition to building a personal connection. 

4) Follow-Up

Networking does not mean sending an email to alumni to then sit on the sofa feeling great about your efforts. For Italian students, this is the most important step of all. Professional and personal networking are still blurred and convoluted in the country, much more than in the U.S. Make it clear to a potential mentor or connector that your intentions are to both pursue their friendship (although not necessary) and establish a meaningful professional discourse for your desired career trajectory. is called sending a few emails, not networking. Sure, networking can start with emails. But that is exactly that: a start. It would be like saying that playing chess begins and ends when you purchase the board from the store. Not the case: you need to find a friend to play with, sit down, map out your strategy, adjust, and keep playing. That is networking, a journey. Not a sprint. 

5) Be Bold

We are young. We are inexperienced, it does not matter how much we try to hide it. We feel shy in front of seasoned executives or, how I call them, “people from the real world.” That is normal. What I have noticed, however, is that older people actively hope to interact with young folks like us because it keeps them alive. This holds particularly true in the U.S, but it is a phenomenon rapidly growing in Italy as well. Society is slowly adapting to the idea that young people can accomplish a lot at a very early age. And that’s okay. 

They want to know all about our student life. About what we do, what we want to achieve. It inspires them. This is why you should be bold. Bold does not mean arrogant or overly confident. Bold means you should feel comfortable picking up the phone and calling someone you want to meet. I know, it is hard. I can already hear you say: “I don’t have time… I am busy.”  Stop making excuses. Make a list, pick up the phone, type those emails, or look for an introduction.  Most importantly, be yourself. Do not pretend to be something you are not. ‘People from the real world’ can tell if you are a try-hard or the real deal.

 And remember, #YouthVoicesMatter.