Is It 'Who' You Know, Or 'What' You Know That Really Matters?

by Natasha Artwell

For professional success, is it your experience and ability, or your contacts and popularity that matter? Is it your knowledge and determination, or your Twitter followers and reputation? Or, for Generation-Y, are all of these factors of equal significance for measuring the overall outcome of our successes?

We live in a world where it is easier to contact and build relationships with the necessary people through social media. We can contact a person at a click of a button (or “like”) and gather information about organizations to attain an employee’s contact information within split seconds.

Has it become more important to know the right person than to know the right answer?

The question of whether it’s better to know the right person or know the right information depends on the industry, but both sides of the coin are influential and have contributed to my journey, thus far. Who you know is important, but could I have risen to my current situation without my knowledge and education? I’m not so sure.

I remember applying for internships and work experience before college. At that point, I knew what I wanted and I had the determination and the ambition to succeed — but that wasn’t enough. Organizations and publications would not give me the time of day because I wasn't in school full-time and had no relevant qualifications. I had to have the right qualifications before I could be considered for an unpaid position.

Application after application was rejected.

This is not to say that I am not eternally appreciative and thankful to the people who have helped me along the way. Each of them gave me an opportunity that was essential to the start of my career and I do not take that for granted. I have had to prove myself in order to get opportunities, but I have also been in the right place at the right time and known the right person.

Still, I felt more gratified when my opportunities came from my capability and work qualifications, rather than from my network. When opportunities came from my abilities, I knew things were happening because my work spoke for itself; my work had more weight than the people I knew.

However, if the overall outcome is the same and goals and targets are reached, does it matter how we get where we get?

An example: A close friend of mine was a support worker for many years. She cares for people who have disabilities and is incredible at what she does. Eventually, she reached the highest level possible in her company. After returning from a trip, she applied for a similar job – where she had no contacts – but the job criteria more than matched her skills and, if anything, she was over-qualified for the position.

She didn’t even get an interview; her application was immediately rejected. Running out of choices, she started contacting people she knew to ask about job vacancies. Within a week, she was offered some work – through someone she knew – in a field in which she had no previous experience or skills. Frustrating as it can be, in her case, it was who she knew, not what she knew that proved to be more pivotal.

We, Gen-Y, have become the masters of networking. Networking has become more necessary to get where we want to be. Although who you know is increasingly important for finding employment or achieving goals, I believe it is equally important to know your sh*t, too.

I once heard a saying that stuck with me: “It’s who you know, not what you know, until who you know asks you what you know.” Network, but also know your stuff because at some point along the line, it is more than likely that you will have to prove yourself. Your experience and knowledge will be tested, so make sure you know the right person and the right answer.

Build your online presence and network with the right people. Just remember, who you know will potentially get your foot in the door, but what you know will likely provide you with substance and longevity.

Photo via Suits