Is It Really About Who You Know?

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Mark Hammer 7 years, 10 months ago.

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  • #170178

    Whitney Jones

    Economic Times are Tough.

    The other night, I was having a discussing with a federal government group, and one of the ladies stated that if you do not know anyone you are not going any where in the federal government. I do not believe this is true-I am an eternal optimist after all. However, I just wanted to pose the question in this forum-is it really who you know? If so, how do you get in the know of people who can help you build a career?

  • #170190

    Mark Hammer

    I think the “know” part warrants expansion.

    Managers place considerable emphasis, sometimes more than they know or are willing to admit, on how much they feel they can work with someone. That’s partly why, if you asked around, you’d probably see that far more managers will place confidence in a personal reference, or an interview, or some other sign of perceived compatibility, than they will in things like highly-validated employment tests. It could even be something like what school you went to, or fraternity/sorority you belonged to. The validity of the “omens” they focus on might be very low, but they still want those sorts of indicators.

    While I recognize that it is always possible to have a highly valid structured interview, and similarly possible to misapply a paper-and-pencil test that is highly valid in a very different sort of job context, one still has to ask why managers would prefer to see something with their own eyes, or some acceptable substitute (a friend’s/colleague’s eyes), than turn to a validated quantitative indicator. And I would maintain that it’s because, ultimately, knowing that they can work with the person is VERY important to them. As a former manager of mine put it to me once, he said he first wanted to know the person was comptent, and then he wanted some indication that the person wouldn’t “blow up in his face”.

    So, it’s not so much who YOU know, in the sense of them doing you a favour. Rather, it’s more who knows you, such that they can place confidence in other indicators of your suitability for the job.

    At another level, humans like things that reduce an otherwise massive search space down to something manageable. And when they need someone in a hurry, and don’t know where to start looking, or where in their list of referrals to focus, someone they know who “won’t blow up in their face” can seem like an efficient and dependable place to start. And as we can often see, that approach can lead to people finding out about positions through informal channels, that might have eluded them if they relied solely on formal channels.

    Again, to underscore my former manager’s comment, competence comes first, but being a known quantity can come second.

    Finally, keep in mind that while an applicant may well be thinking in terms of their individual qualities as a performer, managers may often be also thinking in terms of where to fit someone into a team. That you have the highest SAT/LSAT/MCAT scores ever recorded does not necessarily mean you will fit in well with my study group. Knowing someone, or at least knowing enough about them as a person and personality, in advance, can help a hiring manager make a decision.

    So what does that imply in terms of your strategies for career advancement? Well, obviously you can’t know everybody. But you CAN involve yourself in things that can let them feel like they know YOU.. That could be projects, either work-related or volunteer-based, that can foster the sense of “knowing” someone. For example (and this is merely a handy illustration, not a specific endorsement), if I learned, in passing that you had involved yourself in several Habitat-for-Humanity builds this past summer, I might feel like I know something about you as a person, and as a team-member. I may be dead wrong, but the point is that I think I know something that is similar to knowing you.

  • #170188

    Whitney Jones

    You have made a very interesting point, I have joined professional organizations but have not really been involved in the volunteer circut for some time, except for Yachad(which repairs and restores homes, non-profit facilites, and store fronts) in the Washington D.C. area.

  • #170186

    Mark Hammer

    Thanks Whitney. My point was not so much to urge folks to engage in volunteer activities, specifically – though that is a commendable thing if they do – but rather to illustrate that some kinds of activities or projects, whether in the volunteer/NGO sector, private sector, or public sector, are treated as more “diagnostic” by others. That is, by virtue of what you participated in, they feel like they know you a bit better.

    If someone told me they worked in accounts receivable for 3 years at an insurance firm, I’m not sure that I would infer a great deal from that. It’s not a BAD thing, certainly, and I suppose it reflects on their relative dependability, but there may not be much about it that readily leads me to think “Now there’s someone I could work with”. I’d need other sorts of evidence to lead me to that thought.

    Unfortunately, far too many of us simply toil away as cogs in much larger wheels, on things that don’t ever result in an obvious implemented project, with a beginning, middle and end. When people are connectable to a project or initiative with an identifiable outcome, it can give them a sort of “brand” that can create the sense of knowing them a little better. I think that’s the sort of thing one wants to have more of. I’ve seen a number of cases on this forum where people talk about initiatives they are proud to have participated in, and I know MY first thought is “Neat! I’ll bet they learned a lot doing that, and would be good to have around.” There is also something to be said for completing something…anything, rather than merely treading water.

    As an aside, I recall a directorate I worked in many years back, where there was a competition between some 40-odd staff for 5 positions. The competition resulted in a number of appeals and grievances because many felt that they had been deliberately confined to the drudgery – working hard and competently, but behind the scenes – while others, working at the same level, had lucked into the higher-profile glamour assignments that gave them better access to corporate knowledge and made them seem like much better choices. Their contention was that, by virtue of having to “stay at home and clean while others went to the ball” (like Cinderella and her stepsisters), their competence and qualification for the position was overlooked.

  • #170184

    Jeff S

    More about whose “tush” you smooch

  • #170182

    Carol Davison

    To some extent. You could be God’s gift to the Federal government, but if no one knows that, you won’t get the good appraisal, cash award or promotion.

    Also if people know you it opens doors. I got a developmental assignment at a prestigious agency because I had something in common with it’s director. I emailed him, and he asked me where I wanted to work.

    Knowing people is like having all green lights through your career.

    Not knowing people is getting yellow lights. People will slow you down by asking “What do we know about Whitney? instead of allowing you to proceed at full speed.

  • #170180

    Mark Sullivan

    I’ve often told young people who have asked my advise that it’s neither “who” you know or “what” you know. Rather it is WHO knows WHAT you know. A good resume may get you in the door, and a good interview may get you in the top 2-3. However, hiring mananagers will often rely on the impressions of trusted or respected collegues. This is the value in internships, fellowships, and ‘first’ jobs. They give you an opportunity to develop a reputation and, hopefully, an advocate who will both give you a good reference, and perhaps push your name forward when invisible opportunities come available.

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