Who You Know, Not What You Know Might Matter More

The popular catchphrase, "It's who you know, not what you know," rings true. Who you know might be just as important as what you know when it comes to gaining professional opportunities. Our parents and teachers put much emphasis on us learning rather than building connections and a network, but that network is vital as well.

Key Takeaways

  • The popular adage, "It's who you know, not what you know," is important 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 can build their network through tools and platforms, such as LinkedIn and in-person networking events.

"What You Know" Is Still Important

The more we learn in school, the better equipped we are to handle new experiences. Our skills and knowledge are the gateway to postsecondary education and earning more in our future careers. It has been found that men who pursue postsecondary education tend to earn a median income of $655,000 more over a 40-year work life than those who don't. The estimate drops to $450,000 for women.

Our schooling and experiences will always be valuable. You probably won't get the job if you don't know the answers to some of the main questions employers ask in interview settings. But you might never get the interview in the first place if you don't know the right people to open the door for you.

Don't Forget "Who You Know"

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's a new job position opening up at a prestigious company and two final candidates remain? One candidate may have a better educational background and slightly more relevant work experience, but the other candidate knows someone who is respected within the company. It's possible this individual personally referred and recommended the second candidate. Who do you think has a better chance of getting the job?

It's likely that the second person has a better chance in both of these scenarios.

Referrals are a major source of new hires. At least one study indicates that referrals from other employees increase the likelihood of getting a job by 2.6% to 6.6%. The average share of hirers from employee referral programs increases to 12%, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Networking for Entrepreneurs

"Who you know" is even more important for entrepreneurs. Alice Heimen, author of "Connecting Your Way To New Business," supports the importance of entrepreneurs building "who they know." Heimen says that "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 ways, from understanding all the legal issues by being connected to a lawyer to finding venture capitalists to help with startup costs.

An individual may not have technical knowledge and experience under their belt, but it might not matter if they have the right connections. Fortunately, "who you know" may be easier to build than you might think, especially with the assistance of technology.

How to Build a Network

Anyone can build "who they know" if they can communicate with other people. We're given multiple opportunities to build our networks from the moment we begin integrating into society. But we aren't taught to focus on building and maintaining these relationships and many people don't maximize these opportunities to their full potential.

You can build a network with old and new connections in a few ways.

Reach out online

LinkedIn is a professional social networking website where individuals can put their resumes in front of many recruiters. LinkedIn's mission is to "connect the world's professionals to make them more productive and successful." It allows you to personally connect with millions of professionals all around the world.

Reconnecting with former colleagues or classmates is only a click away. Discovering second-degree connections of your close friends is another perk if you should later need a referral or an introduction. LinkedIn also allows you to connect to other professionals in a similar field of work if you're a bit too shy to meet new people in person. Simply message them, even if you've never spoken to them before.

LinkedIn is a great place to build a network professionally. The website is full of ways to build "who you know," but many other social media online sites also 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 others also give you the ability to meet people who may be able to help you achieve your next big break.

Make in-person contacts

There are many opportunities to make in-person contacts as well. Ultimately, a face-to-face connection is still more powerful even in our digital world. It's just a matter of getting out there.

The opportunities are endless, from classes to clubs, sports, and special events that are designed specifically for people to come together and network. A simple search even for a straightforward networking event is all it takes. 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 consider people you already know!

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I begin networking if I'm just starting out?

Identify what you want from a job or career, from location to companies that interest you to issues you're passionate about. From there, you can identify LinkedIn or MeetUp.com groups and individuals who share your sentiments and/or work in comparable fields. Get chatting and talking. Make connections. Don't overlook friends of friends, either. You're not confined to the Internet.

How can I improve my networking skills?

Networking revolves around just that: a "network." Maintain contact with individuals even if you don't think you need them right now. An occasional email to check in will do. Don't let them forget your name. Avoid complaining about past jobs or positions and brush up on your communication skills. It's okay to ask for help outright.

What are the "three P's" of networking?

Goodwill Industries International defines the three P's as purpose, people, and process. Identify what you want then find and maintain relationships with those who can help you. As for the process, don't overlook the power of LinkedIn and other Internet sites.

The Bottom Line

People seem to put a lot of emphasis on the importance of building "what we know," but many fail to mention the importance of building "who we know." It can be even more important in some cases. Many of us aren't taught how to properly build our network of connections with our peers, but there are a variety of ways we can do so. We have the opportunity to build "who we know" online or in person, You never know who you'll meet.

Article Sources
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  1. Social Security Administration. "Education and Lifetime Earnings."

  2. WebinarCare. "Employee Referral Statistics 2023."

  3. National Bureau of Economic Research. "What Do Employee Referral Programs Do?" Page 12.

  4. HelpGuide.org. "Job Networking Tips."

  5. University of Maryland, Baltimore County. "10 Tips for Effective Networking."

  6. Goodwill Industries International. "The Three P's of Networking."

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