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? It seems like "who we know" is just as important as "what we know," if not more important.
"What We 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. 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 need to ask you in an interview, 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, he or she might not even care about your skills or education.
…But Don't Forget "Who You Know"
For those of you who may think that skills are more important than connections, consider a situation where two undergrads 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?
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, candidate No. 2 knows someone who is respected within the company. That respected person personally referred and recommended candidate No. 2. 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 No. 1 source of new hires. Almost 28% of new hires come from employee referrals.
"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": "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 his or her belt, if he or she has 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 he or she 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 website where you can put your résumé in front of many recruiters, but it also allows you to personally connect with millions of professionals all around the world. Reconnecting with a former colleague or classmate is only a click away. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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." I suggest you start building "who you know" just as much as "what you know." "It's not what you know, but who you know," and you never know who you'll meet next.