It's Not What You Know, But Who You Know

by Edward Mullen

We’ve all heard the phrase – it’s not what you know, it’s who you know – but how many of us work as hard at building and maintaining social networks as we do at building our knowledge?

I was at a dinner party the other night and this guy was talking about how he got his job as an investment banker. He explained how a family friend had got him a job at a bank, and a year later, a friend of a friend had got him a job with one of the most prestigious investment firms in town.

This guy now has a high-paying and respectable job without ever stepping foot inside a classroom nor is he feeling the crushing anxiety of a massive student loan debt looming overhead.

Is this kind of story becoming increasingly common in today’s market?

In the board game, Life, you start by choosing one of two paths – Go to school or go immediately into the workforce. The path of school takes longer, but it comes with greater rewards. What’s not built into the game is networking.

The reality is that having a vast network drastically tips the scales. Although education and credentials are still highly valued, most jobs never get posted to the public. If a job opening comes up, the first thing a company will do is ask, “Who do you know?” or “Do we have someone that can do this?”

Hiring is a huge burden to a lot of companies with no guarantees of what you are going to get. A familiar face who is already ensconced in the company is much more likely to get that job than Joe Blow with his clean shave and a smile.

That is why networking is so important. The larger your network, the more access to opportunities you have.

Mark Granovetter of Johns Hopkins University published a paper called “The Strength of Weak Ties” and his research found that weak contacts, even distant acquaintances, are often more powerful sources in our network than close friends. According to the study, in more than 80% of the time, people found jobs through weak connections.

The Goals of Networking are to:

Meet new people Maintain connections Create opportunities Do something for somebody

At the same dinner party, I was talking with a fellow writer. At no point was she fully engaged in the conversation. She kept looking around, almost as if she was looking for someone more important to talk to. This is considered rude and offensive. When you talk to people, be engaged, develop a rapport. Good networkers don’t assume anything, and they never judge a book by its cover.

The Rules of Engagement

Networking is not about strong-arming people into talking with you or collecting as many business cards as you can – be subtle about it.

Being a good networker involves being a good conversationalist.

You don’t always have to talk about business – ask questions and demonstrate an interest in the other person. This will develop a good rapport and may allow you to learn something new.

Be interesting, have things to talk about, have opinions on things, stay up to date with current events, be a good listener. Essentially, be the type of person that you would want to meet at a party or event. Selling yourself does not mean that you just talk about yourself and boast about your achievements; this will actually do more damage than good.

Topics of Conversation to Avoid:

Politics and religion (unless your views are similar) Kids (unless you both have them and want to talk about them) Intimate details of your personal life or theirs

Networking Tips:

Have a good introduction - Introductions, establish your credentials and tell others what makes you or your company interesting or unique. Keep it short, simple, and memorable – a good introduction will be 20 seconds or less.

Address people by their name - addressing people by name not only allows you to remember it, but it also creates a positive, friendly feeling. When someone remembers and says our name, we feel flattered.

If you cannot remember someone’s name, the best thing to do is confess, say something like, “I’m sorry, could you please tell me your name again.” Do this before you get too far in the conversation. Or remove yourself from the conversation as soon as possible.

Greetings - Really good networkers always say, “Nice to see you” or “Great to see you”, to avoid the awkward and embarrassing problem of saying “Nice to meet you” and already have met them before.

Be Genuine – People do business with those they know and trust. Being genuine helps to develop a rapport.

Best Places to Network

Some people say your network is always on. While this is true, there are certain times and places where it is more appropriate to network.

Some social events, such as an alumni meeting, give you the ‘permission to network’ while other social events, such as an intimate house party, does not. You never want to be too abrasive that you rub people the wrong way.

Join organizations that give you ‘permission to network’ such as.

Church events Charity events Political campaigns Conferences Clubs Volunteer Community events Work events

One of the most important things you can do to network is to go to events. Accept invitations, host your own events, buy tickets to events, just make sure you show up to as many as possible. Your first instinct should be to say ‘yes’ to things. This will allow you to establish a good reputation and be well respected.

The Follow-up

Many people expect immediate results when they network and it just doesn’t work that way. Just showing up to events doesn’t guarantee anything. It takes time to build relationships. Instead of being discouraged saying, “I didn’t meet anyone worthwhile.” You should ask yourself, ‘What did my contacts gain from meeting me?’

In order to develop a worthwhile connection with someone, you need ongoing follow-up. This can be done by adding them to your Linkedin or other social networking profile, or by continuing to go to similar events. Here you can get reacquainted. Follow-up is a slow and steady process; a lot of patience is required. It’s not something you can force.

Holidays are a good way to follow-up with someone. It’s a ‘permission to follow-up’ occasion.

If you immediately hit it off with someone, you don’t have to wait for the next function to see them again. Invite them out to lunch. If you’ve initiated the invitation, it is customary to pay. This is also a way future engagements happen – the other person will likely want to treat you next time.

Don’t beat a dead horse. If your follow-up email goes unreplied, don’t continue to harass them. Before sending communication to a budding acquaintance, ask yourself, “Is what I am about to send going to add any value to this busy person’s life?”

Edward Mullen | Elite.