What You Know — Or Who You Know?


Recently, I heard about a federal employee who applied for 1,000 federal jobs within just a few months. Although he has veteran’s preference, he has received no calls, emails, or requests for interviews.

From what little I have heard, I would say that he is not “in the know.”  I also believe that the federal government has shifted from “What You Know” to “Who You Know.” I can distinctly remember a time when I could apply for a job and shortly thereafter be called for an interview and offered a job, but not anymore.  Just last week, I heard about two former coworkers who had gotten jobs at another federal agency because someone helped them.

I witnessed the “Who You Know” dynamic firsthand at my current and previous agencies. A manager was placed in a senior position without the proper knowledge, skills and abilities. Within a few weeks, everyone knew it, and less than a year later, he resigned.

Another manager repeatedly reassigned due to unprofessional conduct was selected for a senior position that he, too, was not trained for. Rather than resigning when he realized that he was “in over his head,” he fired anyone who would not cover for him and hired only those who would. Four years later, he is still in the position.

In both cases, I believe the managers were selected because they were known, and leadership did not want to take a chance on someone new.  However, familiar and comfortable cannot replace technical proficiency. Sooner or later, the two managers had to “step up.”

With that being said, let’s go back to the federal employee who applied for 1000 jobs. Since he is not “in the know,” is he wasting his time applying for 1,000 jobs? I would say “no.”

According to Forbes, in the past, the people with connections controlled access to the elite circle, but our hyper-connected world has caused “what you know” to be more important than “who you know.” Today, the “What You Know” jobseekers are inventing interesting ways to reap just as many rewards as the contacts who make introductions.

In addition to applying for 1000 jobs, he should utilize tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and of course, GovLoop, to connect to the right person and for the right person to connect to him. Just today, I got an email from an employer who found my name and credentials through an online professional directory and invited me to apply for a position with her company.

I will take it a step further and say that it is “What You Know” and “Who You Know.” Networking will always have its place, but it just may not be as important as it has been in the past.

Cynthia V White is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Rachel Niebeling

This is a great launch pad for a continued conversation… Any tips on how to move forward with applying for jobs using both what and who you know?

Cynthia V White

To move forward with “what you know,” you have to understand USAJOBs. It’s not just about applying but meeting minimal qualifications, and writing your resume to support the occupational questionnaire takes skill. To move forward with “who you know” “put yourself out there.” My career excelled when I volunteered for the Combined Federal Campaign or organized a luncheon to commemorate Women’s History Month. My immediate supervisor might not have noticed but others sure did. It’s not always about the work that you do. Sometimes, it’s about “who knows you” rather than “who you know.” Good luck.


Cynthia, I have transitioned from “who you know” to “who know you.” At my agency, I see inexperienced children of seasoned employees get hired. They didn’t know anyone, but because of their name and who know them based on their parents; they are securing a position over the Veteran who applied for 1,000 position.