How to Network for Life (And Why You Should)

Networking in Positano

In certain circles, the words “networking” or “networker” have a slighty negative connotation to them – adding themselves to the ranks of car salesman or ticket scalper. The word “schmooze” sounds greasy on purpose, but networking has an important role in everyone’s life.

I’ve received several nominations recently for the Schmooze Award (thanks, everyone!), and I’m sure, since I talk about food and travel, that most of them aren’t even aware of how important networking actually is to me. Ever since I understood it as a concept years ago, it’s driven me every day to meet new people and seek new information, ideas and inspiration.

Networking is for everyone – whether you’re a painter, a student, a businessman or a mother. And it’s really easy to do.

Here’s some information on what networking is, why you should do it, and how!

What is Networking

The exchange of information or services among individuals, groups, or institutions; specifically : the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business (from Merriam-Webster)

Networking is fundamentally about exchanging information, whether it be about personal, business, services, products, or job opportunities. You will have only a few relationships in your life where you are exchanging purely emotion. We exchange information because it is a form of validation, a synthetic way to demonstrate what we have learned through experience and schooling.

I believe there are several factors that motivate two people to network. Note that “something” here could be a product, service, information, contact, job, etc.

  • I want something from you
  • I want you to want something from me
  • I know a little about you, but I am curious to know more
  • I don’t know who you are, but I think you should know who I am
  • I don’t know who you are, but I may need to know later

Every networking experience for me is a different combination of these motivators, but in general I do not network because I need something now. I network because I realize life is constantly evolving and changing, and I don’t know what situations I will encounter and when. I prefer not to judge someone by what we appear to have in common or how useful they can be to me today.

Instead, when meeting a new person, I try to understand who they are – if they are:

  • Curious and seeking knowledge and ideas – A great source of inspiration and information, and they may be the first ones to tell you about a new idea or resource
  • An expert in something – A great resource because they have in-depth knowledge of the subject at their tongue-tip!
  • Well-connected with other people and groups – Maybe this person doesn’t have any direct answers for you, but they probably know someone who does
  • Generous with their time, information and/or contacts – The next step in being a resource is sharing with others.
  • Willing to help – Interested in helping your cause, teaching you something, or investigating something and getting back to you – generous contacts to have

I consider myself to be a “Connector” (from The Tipping Point) and most Connectors are not so by accident – they put themselves in a position of being an available resource, to collect, process, and sort people, information, and ideas so they can recall them later when the opportunity arises.

Why Network

How many times have you heard: “It’s not what you know…It’s who” ?

This saying has no metaphorical implications like “A stitch in time saves nine,” but it has become the most important “proverb” of modern times. As it gets easier to meet people due to virtual interaction and increasing travel, “who you know” is no longer a factor of proximity. Many job listings you see online have been filled by the time they become public. Many companies never even open up opportunities to the general public, but utilize (and reward!) their network of employees and friends to fill them as much as possible.

Information is time-sensitive.
Something you learn today, a person you meet today, may not become relevant immediately to your world. It may not ever become relevant to your particular world but instead become an important resource for one of your other contacts. You can rely on a good network of people to help keep you informed, and you should do your part to inform others of important/interesting information.

Information is free.
Most information is free. It is the act of sharing that information that costs us time, exclusivity, trust. Most of these “costs” are worth the return, however. At the rate our information world is changing, you have the opportunity to discover something new whenever you exchange information with other people. This is especially important when mixing with people from different circles. Completely different backgrounds, nationalities, and social circles mean different information and different perspectives. A simple email can save someone in your network lots of time and/or be extremely useful to their success.

Enhance and diversify your knowledge base.
Sure you can surf the internet for information, but unknown reviewers and hidden advertising is not the same as getting information from someone who can help you put it in context: why do they like it? how do they use it? Sharing your valuable experiences with others will encourage them to do the same and it strengthens the give and take aspect of any relationship.

You can network with anyone.
It’s not always personal. The people you want to network with aren’t always going to be the people you take out for a beer or the ones you take a vacation with. Sometimes you will need to network with people that are simply looking to network. They want to connect with you because of one of the reasons above, and they want you to do the same.

How to Network Once You’re There

I already revealed to you that I don’t have any problems approaching strangers. I realize not everyone can be an extrovert, but the important thing to remember is: what do you have to lose? There are a million ways to make a fool of yourself, the least embarassing is by introducing yourself to a stranger.

These tips could work 100% online as well as offline, though realize that some of the steps (like “be interested” or “contact information”) are easier to do when someone has an online profile or web site. This means that you will have to work harder to show you’re really interested and not regurgitate the person’s “About” page to them in an email. If it’s a contact worth having, learn about them.

  • Introduce yourself in context
  • Be Interested
  • Request Contact Information
  • Follow up

Introduce yourself in context
Maybe your job as a network engineer has nothing to do with your appearance at a food photography course, but you don’t know who it will be interesting to. Give others a chance to be interested by telling a little about yourself.

If you’re introducing yourself, and you have a connection to that person in some way, state it, even if it is having read something about them or something they’ve written.

“Jeff has told me that you’re working on a really interesting project about mushrooms.”
“Hello, I read an article about you attending the X conference. Why did you say sales would decrease?”

Introduce yourself with information that a) establishes you as a resource and b) positions you to receive information.

“I’ve been working in network engineering (resource) and web development (resource) for years, but I’ve been getting involved in food photography (receive info) and investigating becoming a sommelier (receive info)”

Online tip: If you’re contacting a blog author, speak about how their blog speaks to you, even cite a favorite post. “Great blog” is a nice compliment but it gives very little information to the author about who you are and why you enjoy what they write. Be sincere – you can spot insincerity from a mile away.

I got my current job by networking. When introducing himself, my student told me that he had no need to work on his technical English skills as he used them daily, but instead wanted to practice conversation. I could have nodded and forged ahead with conversation about upcoming vacation plans. Instead, I quickly introduced myself in context by commenting on what a shame that was, since I had quite a bit of technical experience, and briefly described some of my qualifications. From that moment on, the lesson became an interview.

Be Interested
Since location where you meet someone is not always enough context to tell you about them, ask about someone’s job or hobbies to give you a context about the world they pass the major part of their time in. It also gives them a chance to explain future interests or something they’ve got going on right now. Not everyone knows to explain what they’re looking for or what they do. Give them a chance by asking!

Request Contact Information
Don’t be afraid to ask someone you find interesting for a business card, the spelling of their name and/or website and jot it in a notebook you’re carrying (a Moleskine works great for this).

Make notes on the back of the business card when you meet someone to help you recall important details later – the event you met them at, what you talked about, and what they’re interested in. If you’re not comfortable doing this in front of the person, make sure you take 10 seconds to jot it down before you forget. This will also help you avoid sending a email like this one: “I met you at this event” when they weren’t actually there.

Always be ready to network. Have your business cards with you or other form of contact information. Rather than writing another address on the back of the card, create another one entirely for personal networking. I carry my (personal networking) Moo cards with me at all times in addition to my business cards.

One of the biggest mistakes would-be networkers make is not following up with the contacts they make. Contact the people you meet, and start a dialogue. An email of “Thank you, nice to meet you” doesn’t prompt the reader to do anything. Pass them some information, ask a question, propose the next time and place for a meetup. Use this opportunity to introduce this person to some people they don’t know if there’s an event already planned. Make yourself useful before you “use” – people are more likely to respond to genuine interest.

I met someone working on her masters’ thesis in interaction design. A few weeks later, I came across an article about her research topic and I immediately thought of her. I sent her an email with the link and a quick hello. What did that cost me? About 30 seconds of my time, and hopefully it was useful to her. But more importantly, it demonstrated that I was interested in her and the things that interest her.

Networking Still Not for You?

Network where and how it works for you. Networking get-togethers too much? Initiate individual contact with people. Drinks not your scene? Try lunch. Find a way for you to become a better networker. Go out for a coffee, check out a bookshop together. Attend a knitting event or an art show.

Probably the best advice I’ve seen on networking: (source)

Find the key nodes in the network.
…If networking wears you out, you will be better off finding the ten key people who all know lots of other people, than finding and maintaining fifty relationships.

More Information about Networking

How to get Involved

To read more about networking, check out these books:

  • Never Eat Alone – Turn any situation into an opportunity to meet someone, learn something, and increase your network!
  • The Tipping Point – though not strictly about networking, it’s an excellent book about spreading ideas and concepts. Are you a Maven, a Salesman or a Connector?
  • Love is the Killer App – A book that advocates loving and love sharing knowledge and information with others. What’s there not to like?
  • Dig Your Well before You’re Thirsty – boldly claims it’s the only networking book you’ll need.

Do you have a tip for networking? Do you dislike networking? Where are the best places to network? Looking for some information? Let us know in the comments with “I’m looking for a way to…”

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  1. says

    Great post! Probably one of the best posts I’ve read recently, actually!!!! :)

    Love it!

    You know, this is why I like the blogosphere so much, it is a good example of the basic human need to reach out to others, and to learn and grow from human interaction! (if you find the right bloggers, that is! :)

    Of course, nothing can replace family and friends, and in person “networking” (that is a yucky word, when will someone coin a good euphemism?)… but recently I’ve met amazing people and learned so much from them that will help me in my upcoming move, that I couldn’t help but think of this as I read your post :)

  2. says

    Yes Sara, this was a very informative post. As expats I guess part of our networking has been to make contact with others in the same compare notes, share tips, even cry on each other’s shoulders.

    Altho I have no problem doing that typeof networking, and wouldn’t be described as shy by anyone, I’ve still had to learn more about networking…and to put it into practice. Ever since we put our house up for sale I’ve had to learn to network, to use all the resources available to get my ‘product’ out there. Reading your article made me feel a lot more confident and comfortable about the process. Thanks!

  3. says

    ‘Find the key nodes in your network’
    That’s a great piece of advice.
    Thanks for the link to the source.
    So many people just go round collecting people rather than really connecting.

  4. says

    I know 2 of the men in that photo!!! I was going to get angry with you for visiting and not telling me, but I looked closer and can see that the photo was taken a few years ago so you’re forgiven!

  5. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @Farfallina – Thanks! I like the word networking – we shouldn’t be afraid to connect! :) I’m glad this is helpful for you.
    @Barbara – you’re doing great! Thanks for the award, again.
    @Dave – yes, it’s hard to connect with everyone, but it makes it more worth your while.
    @nicki – I wouldn’t dare! I think a visit might be in order next year – I haven’t been back since 2004! When are you coming to Milan? Hee.

  6. says

    Excellent information and really organized in a great format. Bravissima.

    Networking doesn’t come naturally to me at events where I know no one, those “mix and mingle” type corporate things feel so staged, but I have to say that I have made lots of good contacts that way, just through small talk and exchanging business cards.

    I would say that volunteering info. about yourself is key. It doesn’t cost anything to let people know what you’re looking for, and I think a lot of people genuinely like to help if they can.

    You should freelance for business publications or websites. This is valuable info. that people would pay for.

  7. Rose in Cali says

    This valuable post couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. I just got back from another visit to Italy and am even more determined to work and live there. Grazie, Sara!

  8. says

    Very informative post. I work in a business that is 85% (if not more) about networking and who you know.

    I would not have my current job where it not for going to lunch with a certain William Morris agent 6 years ago. He jumped to another agency 3 years ago and when one of the agency’s clients was starting a production company he called me. He did not work directly for this actor but introduced me to his boss, a partner of the agency who did.

    Your advice about being sincere is so important. Being fake is not an effective way to network.

    Rose in Cali, you are back? I want to hear all about your trip.

  9. says

    I never was a networking kind of person before, until I found Expats in Italy and discovered what a great resource it was – not only because of the information available, but because of the people! Hadn’t it been for the people I have met online (my Italy network, if you want) I wouldn’t have been to Italy twice already.

    Also, right now I’m building a curly hair website in Swedish and it occurred to me yesterday that I already know so many people in the business from school and otherwise that I have a GREAT opportunity there to spread the word without spending a lot of money on marketing. Quite a difference from back in the days when I had an online diary that nobody knew about except for me and a few close friends.

    Really great post Sara!

  10. says

    Wow, Sara, this is a real opus. You put so much information, work, experience, thought and energy into this piece on networking; it really shows. You have obviously used networking successfully in your life, or you couldn’t write something like this. When I started my own business I found that networking was one of the most invaluable tools I had at my disposal. (Although it was also extremely helpful when I was working for others as well; it just seems like more of a lifeline since I’m on my “own” – much like the feeling of being an expat, I suppose.) I think the fact that you pointed out about “what do you have to lose” is a simple key for people to remember. Something similar I always say is, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” I have been amazed that just by opening my mouth and sharing something about what I am doing, or about myself, which is not always easy, many doors have opened for me through other people. The other magical thing I love about networking is something you mentioned – you never know how someone you meet today might be instrumental in your future. I have seen that over and over again in my life. So, for everyone out there – networking not only works, it can enhance your life in ways you never imagined. Read and re-read this post! Thank you Sara.

  11. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    I’m glad to see many of you are as passionate about this as I am…I think it’s an important tool to keep evolving through life and goes hand-in-hand with learning.

  12. says

    I’ve never felt quite so businesslike about schmoozing, but was born to schmooze! I like being part of the whole world, not just some defined piece of it. I will talk to anyone about anything at any time.

    People here used to be a bit startled with that, but they’re coming around. If you can schmooze Umbria, you can schmooze anywhere.

    I’d have to think on what my nodes are… do I really have nodes?

  13. says

    Wow, that’s a very nice post. I especially liked it because I feel the same – you should network with people just because you should never let any door closed. You never know. Be open and know people.
    I am currently having a discussion on another forum with some friends about “social” networking. Some of them are insisting you should distinguish socal networking sites “in general” (i.e. facebook, myspace, etc) and strictly “business” networking (i.e. linkedin)… and my point in that is that the two “categories” should not really be considered two separate worlds; the edges between the two should be rather “blurry”. I am forwarding your blog post! See if I convince them…

  14. Romabel says

    Thank you, Sara for sharing all these wonderful ideas . It’s true as they say, knowing people is as good as having money in the bank. And whenever someone it’s important to get to know them as well as possible. Beautiful post!

  15. Romabel says

    Edit the previous post…whenever you meet someone new, it’s important to get to know them as well as possible!

  16. Tony says


    thanks for the article on networking. A good and timely reminder to keep at it!! Also this site is very good and you’ve obviously put a shed-load of work into it. (The photo with the salute and the beret is funny!).

    I am moving to Padova in August from the UK – a new life. I am on the look-out for any contacts in Padova. Do you know any? I checked your link to Italy Newcomers but the link for Padova seems rather female orientated(the site is down though).

    Look forward to hearing from you,


    ps another good networking site is xing dot com (I’m not an affiliate or anything like that!!! just thought you’d like to know).

  17. says

    Really interesting to read your post about networking. I’ve newer worked on on my networking, it has been my natural way of behaving, helping others, being interested in others and spreading the information and connections when needed.
    We have this word “välittää” in Finnish wich I find really fitting when to discribe myself. One word tells it alla ;)
    Välittää translated to English: arbitrate, mediate, provide, supply, arrange, act as intercessor, act as a mediator, act as intermediary, communicate, pass information to sb, like, bother, care, mind, take into consideration, concern oneself, pay attention to, take care of
    But as I red your post I realized it is time to get more organised about it. Thank ypu for your food of thought.

  18. says

    Hi Sara! Just stumbled across your blog through Flickr.
    I’m also an expat in Milan (nearly 9 years now!), from London. Nice post – I agree, “networking” is often seen as a dirty word – but it seems to come more naturally in Italy than in Britain, where people seem much less willing to share their contacts and act as “connectors” whether in business or social life. Don’t know why – maybe it’s because networking is so much more important in Italian society in general.

  19. Anna says

    Hi guys,

    I read the blog carefully. It is very up-to-date! I use Linkadin most of the time and it is a great source of meeting people.

    Nevertheless, I came into something really bizarre recently. I sent my CV and a job application to a potentiag employer. The guy turned out almost my age and asked me to contact him when I am in Italy. He also added: Is there a possibility to take it further than wine and food?’ Later on he excused himself for his ‘rather rusty’ English as all he wanted was meeting outside the office :-) Is it common in Italy? I was a bit embarassed with this kind of proposal? Ladies, what do you think?


  20. says

    Hi guys-
    I think networking is essential everywhere you are. There are 2 types of jobs: jobs everyone wants and covets having them and jobs that eveyone dreads going to …those are the “account manager”, “sales rep” cog in the wheel jobs.
    Networking will lift you above all that cog in the wheel job mindset and bring you to a different level in your career.

    Talking to others is the most natural thing in the world. Anna- I want to address your point about your job interview/date request- the interviewer for sure wanted to go out with you. Like any guy on this planet- he wanted to see how much he could get away with. In Canada, there are rules about asking people personal questions on job interviews. On my first job interview in Italy, I was BLOWN away when the interviewer asked if a) I was married b) had kids and c) how old I was. I think the final straw was when they asked for a photograph of me. Things are done differently, just be extra vigilant.
    Buon divertimento!

  21. Bonnie Williams says

    I’m new to your site and it’s absolutely wonderful. I love visiting Italy and I hope to make the move very soon. Thank you for posting this article on networking I find it hard for me to do so but I intend on becoming better at it.

  22. Maryalice says

    Haven’t taken the plunge yet (internet networking) but given the excellent info you’ve just given me I’m surely going to try. A big thank-you! Your food photos are scrumptious. I will be back to your site often.

  23. says

    Great post! As relevant in 2010 as when it was written in 2007. Talk about a network explosion. Social media is the great equalizer and gives amazing to accessibility to people whom I may never had the “guts” to have picked up the phone to contact before. Twitter has become one of my mediums of choice.
    P.S I thought the Tipping Point was an amazing work.
    Thank you,
    Lael Hazan

  24. Helen says

    Hmmm, I don’t know. I still think “networking” is gross. Getting to know people and being nice just so they can do things for you and you can get things from them…. its not genuine. Its not me. And I find people who are like this repulsive. Many people feel this way about “networking” – that’s why it has a bad name!

  25. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    @Helen – did you actually read my article? Doesn’t sound like it. “being nice just so they can do things for you” is not what I’m advocating at all. I think a person can be genuine and interested when meeting people, and most networking occurs because people give a little more context about who they are and other people find that interesting. Pretty simple.

    I don’t find networking repulsive or gross, and I don’t think you have to make yourself uncomfortable to do it.

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