Who You Know, Not What You Know Might Matter More

It seems like all our parents and teachers focus on when we are growing up is the importance of building "what we know," but they never once touch on the importance of building "who we know." Why did they put so much emphasis on us learning, rather than building connections and a network? In fact, it's the popular catchphrase, "it's who you know, not what you know," that rings true in daily life. Who you know might matter more--or at least, be just as important as what you know in getting professional opportunities. Here's why.

"What You Know" Is Important

Don't get me wrong, "what we know" is still very important. The more we learn in school and through our experiences, the better equipped we are to handle new experiences. Our skills and knowledge will be our gateway to post-secondary education and earning more in our future careers. It has been found that those that pursue post-secondary education will tend to earn around $200,000 more in a lifetime than those who do not.

Our schooling and experiences will always be valuable. For the most part, these things will determine what jobs we get and with what companies. If you don't know the answers to some main questions employers ask in interview settings, you probably won't get the job. However, you may never get the interview in the first place if you don't know the right people. Sometimes, if you know someone, they might not even care about your skills or education.

Don't Forget "Who You Know"

For those who think that skills are more important than connections, consider a situation in which two undergraduates are hoping to get the last spot in a specific graduate school program. The first person has better grades than the second, but the second is best friends with the dean of admission's son. Who do you think will get that last spot?

Now, what about a situation where there is a new job position opening up at a prestigious company, and two final candidates remain? Although one candidate may have a better educational background and slightly more relevant work experience, let's say the other candidate knows someone who is respected within the company. It's possible that specific respected person personally referred and recommended the second candidate, giving them a valuable vote of confidence. Who do you think has a better chance of getting the job? In both cases, it's likely the second person has a better chance. According to a study done by CareerXRoads, referrals are the number one source of new hires. Almost 28% of new hires come from employee referrals.

Key Takeaways

  • The popular adage "it's who you know, not what you know" rings true in professional environments, where the right connections can make all the difference.
  • Networking skills are important for any industry, but even more so for entrepreneurs.
  • Anyone today can build their network through tools and platforms such as LinkedIn and in-person networking events.

Networking for Entrepreneurs

"Who you know" is even more important for entrepreneurs. Alice Heimen, the author of "Connecting Your Way To New Business," supports the importance of entrepreneurs building "who they know," saying "building a network will help entrepreneurs get their product out in the market and get the right people in place."

The right connections can help entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level in many different ways. From understanding all the legal issues by being connected to a lawyer to finding venture capitalists to help with startup costs, connections help entrepreneurs in big ways.

Even though a person may not have the technical knowledge and experience under their belt, if they have the right connections it may not matter. Some of you may be disheartened by this fact because, like many others, your main focus has been on building "what you know" and not "who you know." Fortunately, "who you know" may be easier knowledge to build than one might think, especially with today's technology.

How to Build a Network

Anyone can build "who they know" as long as they can communicate with other people in one way or another. From the moment we begin to be integrated into society, we are given multiple opportunities to build our networks. However, we aren't taught to focus on building and maintaining these relationships and many of us don't maximize these opportunities to their full potential. Luckily, there are many ways to build a network with old and new connections today.


LinkedIn is a professional social networking website where individuals can put their resumes in front of many recruiters. In addition, LinkedIn's mission to "connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful" really takes off by allowing you to personally connect with millions of professionals all around the world. Reconnecting with a former colleague or classmate is only a click away. Discovering second-degree connections of a close friend is another perk should you later need a referral or an introduction. For those who are a bit too shy to meet new people in person, LinkedIn also allows you to connect to other professionals in a similar field of work by simply messaging them, even if you have never spoken to that person before.

Although LinkedIn is a great place to build a network professionally, the website is full of ways to build "who you know." Many other social media sites online enable you to build a list of possibly valuable connections, even if the site is more about socializing than networking. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and many others also give you the ability to meet people who may be able to give you your next big break. After all, the Internet was designed to make it easier to connect with other people.


For those of you who may not be as comfortable building relationships via the world wide web, or may just prefer meeting people in person, there are still many opportunities to do so. Ultimately, a face to face connection is still more powerful in today's digital world. All you need to do is get out there. From classes to clubs, to sports and special events that are designed specifically for people to come together and network, the opportunities out there are endless. A simple search--even for a straightforward networking event--is all it takes. All you have to do is be brave enough to introduce yourself to new people, and be disciplined enough to put the effort into building and maintaining the right relationships. Some of these relationships may already exist in your network, so don't forget to also consider who you already know!

The Bottom Line

Everyone seems to put a lot of emphasis on the importance of building "what we know," but many fail to mention how important building "who we know" is. In some cases, "who we know" can be even more important than "what we know." Even though many of us aren't taught how to properly build our network of connections from our peers, there are a variety of ways we can do so. Whether it is online or in person, we have the opportunity to build "who we know." You never know who you'll meet next.

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