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It Isn’t Who You Know!

For at least decades, and probably hundreds of years, people have complained, “It isn’t what you know, it’s who you know,” usually after missing out on a job offer to the hiring manager’s brother-in-law, cousin, or college frat buddy.

This is like complaining that gravity is too strong. You want to be able to jump 10 feet in the air!

People, being human, want to hire people they know and trust. This is why chemistry is the most important aspect of an interview. If I don’t like you, I won’t hire you. I don’t care how good you are. This is simply human nature, and all the employment laws and sensitivity training in the world won’t change it. This is a hard thing to say. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just that it’s there. You can get farther looking for a job in the world that exists than in the world you want it to be. You can fight it and lose, or take advantage of it and win. Your choice.

Disclaimer: Human nature is frequently used as a defense for rampant institutional racism. It is emphatically not the purpose of this post to attempt to justify or promote the systemic racism that still exists in the US. The founding fathers, many of whom, tragically, had slaves, were still aware enough to call this America’s Original Sin. They were right. It’s long past time to move on!

Now, back to our story.

Think about it. I need an accountant. I have three candidates. One, Susan, is a friend from the CPA firm we both worked for, and I know her to be a good accountant. The second, Fred, was referred to me by someone I know and trust. The third, Ralph, sent me a resumé out of the blue.

Now let’s examine something people looking for a job don’t normally think about. As the hiring manager, I’m at risk. The hiring decision I make will certainly impact my career, and perhaps the future of the company. I would greatly prefer that impact to be positive!

Here’s what will happen.

I’ll call Susan and we’ll do lunch, we’ll talk about what my needs are, and how she can help. I’ll interview Fred. I don’t know him, but I know and trust the person who referred him to me. I’ll be nice, and maybe a bit skeptical. I’ll interview Ralph, whom I don’t know from Adam, and attack, because my philosophy regarding those I don’t know is, “Kill’em all and let God sort it out! I’ll hire the survivor!”

Who will get the job?

Yes—Susan. And Fred and Ralph will go around saying, “It isn’t what you know. It’s who you know.”

This is human nature at work. But it wasn’t who Susan knew—it’s who knew Susan! Who initiated the contact? I did. Why?

Because when I need someone, I go first to the people I know. Then I go to the people they know. Only if no viable candidate appears do I then consider advertising!

I know and trust Susan. We have history together. She has already proven herself. And here is where human nature really kicks in. Susan may not have all the experience I think I need, but she has already shown me that she can learn. This trumps telling a potential employer, “I can easily learn that!” Every time. She may actually not be as “qualified” as either Fred or Ralph, but that becomes irrelevant. She has the ability! She also has the job.

Here’s the point. It isn’t who you know. It’s who knows you! This is the alpha and omega of networking.  The worst time to start networking is when you need to get a job. That may not be good news, but it’s the truth. The best time? When you don’t need to get a job. Perhaps right after you’ve gotten a job!

Your goal is to be remembered as someone who the potential employer likes, trusts, and believes he or she can use someday. Trust usually exists only when there is a prior relationship, and is much easier to obtain when it isn’t time-critical. But accomplish this and your name, contact information, and resumé will be filed somewhere that manager can find when there’s a problem! Anyone who has labored in HR can tell you stories of hiring managers coming to them saying, “Hire this one,” before the need has even been posted.

Accomplish this often enough and you will never again complain that it’s who you know. So, sorry about that gravity thing. Get out there and become known!