And it’s not entirely who you know either. It’s how you use what you know, and how you engage who you know.
Nowhere are these two statements more true than in your career. It’s pretty common to hear people say things like “Yeah, I didn’t get that promotion. I didn’t have a shot because Greg had an ‘in’…” Or, “I couldn’t even get my foot in the door there, you have to know someone.” Do you believe these statements to be true?
On some basic level, they are true. Hiring managers are far more likely to select someone they know and like if the choice is between two equally qualified candidates. And, we all know of organizations that seem to be comprised completely of people who grew up together. Why wouldn’t someone who owns a business want to work with people she knows and trusts?
Is that wrong? I don’t think so, but sure, it can present challenges. That’s where what you know can really give you a leg up. And this is especially so in these days of transparency in business operations. Businesses are brutalized in social media if their service is compromised because they’ve got someone in the wrong job. No longer can someone who is incompetent linger in a role for which they are poorly suited. It’s just bad business. And that is very good news for all of us.
As Bernard Baruch pointed out, “Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.” Newton used his curiosity and his scientific knowledge to come up with the explanation of gravity. We all have “apple” moments, those times when we see something others can’t or won’t. Are you acting on those moments, or do you let then pass?
By consistently performing at a superior level, by doing what others don’t or won’t, you will stand out. By constantly seeking to improve your knowledge and by approaching your work as a lifelong learner, you can leverage what you know so that it will be a great asset for you when it matters. Yes, of course it’s important who you know. In order to advance your career, you must get yourself in front of the right people. Imagine, though, if you got that opportunity and weren’t full prepared to talk about how you could make a great contribution to their to their efforts? Would the introduction or connection alone get you the job? No, it would not.
At the same time, we all know that superior performance and going beyond the requirements of the job won’t always get you noticed. That’s why so many career advisers suggest finding an advocate or a mentor who can sing your praises. It can even be something you and a peer agree to do for one another. Most of us aren’t entirely comfortable tooting our own horns. But there are ways to get the word out that you’ve done something you’re super proud of without sounding arrogant. One great strategy is to send out an email to anyone who contributed or helped you even in a minor way. Thank him and copy his boss. Like this, “Hey Bob, I just wanted to thank you for helping with the data on the training project. I’ve just put the finishing touches on the report, and I couldn’t have done it without you. I thought you might like to see the results, so here’s the link…” Presto! You’ve thanked a colleague, made him look good, and put a copy of your work into the hands of a superior. Now, you’ll have something to talk to her about to initiate a conversation and get to know her better. Nicely done!