“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” Well, sort of. As with many well known sayings, we know this one because it’s short and sweet and conveys a very generalized message. And, as with other well known sayings, we need to dig into the sentiment to find the value in the saying.

So let’s look at this. “It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” If we took this literally, then only the most knowledge-hungry people would go on to earn degrees. Everyone else would be solely working on networking to get the job they want. Of course that’s not the case! You have to have the necessary job skills, knowledge, and experience to get the job you want. But is that enough? It depends.

If you are so specialized in your field and are one of only a handful of people who practice your skill, then what you know probably gets you the job. However, if you are in a field that’s more generalized or saturated and there are tons of applicants with similar skills and knowledge, then who you know becomes vital. But not in that schmoozey “I got the job because we belong to the same sorority” kind of way. I’ll explain.

I work for a company with over 200,000 employees. I have had hiring managers tell me they receive over 100 applications when they post a job opening. These are applicants that have already been screened by Human Resources and at least meet the minimum job requirements. A couple of months ago, I conducted interviews with a few high level managers to get their advice on getting the job. Here’s what I learned: It’s who you know who has witnessed what you know. In other words, to get the job, do these two things:

1. Get relevant experience. Take the classes, attend the webinars, do the job shadowing, and work on stretch projects in the area where you want to get the job.

2. Network. As in, build long-lasting, two-way relationships instead of just collecting business cards and reaching out to ask for a job.

While you’re doing the work of step 1 (taking classes, working on stretch projects, etc.), build relationships with the people teaching and taking the classes and the other people working on the stretch project — especially the ones leading the project who will probably be the hiring managers in the future!

So, yes, who you know is important, but how you know them and what they know you know is really the key.

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