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Bad Career Advice: It’s Not WHAT You Know, It’s WHO You Know

Speed NetworkingThis is post is part of my Bad Career Advice series in which I expose outdated, clichéd, and counterproductive advice for exactly what it is.

This is perhaps one of the most frequently repeated pieces of bad career advice that exists. So, if it’s now what you know and it’s all who you know, why bother learning anything at all? Instead of attending classes while at college, we might as well focus all of our energy on the parties (clearly, some of us do that already…). But, if what you know doesn’t really matter, why do people make such a big deal about getting a college degree? Why go through the hassle of building a resume? Why not simply send a copy of your address book to prospective employers?

Why It Doesn’t Work

Clearly, I’m being a little facetious…but the problem with this kind of advice is that it places an unfair burden on your network. It supposes that your friends and family will be willing and able to open more doors for you than your own expertise. The truth is, what you know and who you know BOTH matter. Neither one works as well without the other; you have to leverage what you know and who you know to create opportunities for yourself.

The people in your network certainly want to help you grow professionally but not at their own expense. Even the most altruistic person will still want to protect his or her own interests. So you have to bring the goods. What you know matters. If you don’t have the ability to do the job, your friends and family can’t in good conscience advocate for you. By doing so, they’d put their own reputation on the line. If you don’t know enough to do the job and do it well on your own, your network can’t make opportunities appear for you.

Having the ability and having the network are just the beginning. The other critical component is knowing how to effectively leverage both of these things.

Leveraging Your Network

Just because you have a large and powerful network, doesn’t mean you can sit back, relax and let the opportunities flow. You have to do your part—reach out to people, ask for favors and return favors, be specific when you ask for things, know what you want your friend to do for you and the end result you’re looking for.

Leveraging Your Knowledge

Knowledge alone doesn’t do anyone any good. You need to create demonstrable proof of your abilities. Get out into the world and use your skills. If you’re not using your full potential in your current professional role, you need to find another way to do so. Join a professional organization and volunteer for a committee or run for a position on the board. Start a side business and put your skills to work that way. Don’t let what you know remain hidden. The more you show your abilities, the more opportunities will present themselves.

So don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the favors others can do for you are more important than your own abilities. You have everything you need to be successful, with or without your network. Yes, having people who are willing to help you grow professionally certainly makes a difference. But they have to be willing. Don’t ask your network to create opportunities that you can’t appropriately take advantage of due to lack of knowledge.

Photo Credit: Richard-G (Flickr)

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4 Responses to “Bad Career Advice: It’s Not WHAT You Know, It’s WHO You Know”

  1. Chrissy,

    AS somebody who has been the through what seems like the most hellish first 10 years of a career imaginable, I think you’ve got some great points. When I look at the network I’ve built, I realize that one of the most important keys to leveraging your network is providing value to your network. So that’s where what you know becomes really important. If you’re just a person who knows a ton of people with nothing to offer them, then you who you know is meaningless. I do think that if you lack one and have the other then you are not going to ultimately tap into your full potential. Really loving your blog and I see good things ahead for you :)

  2. Hey great article and I agree with you who you know is so important, networking is huge.

  3. […] I don’t believe this entirely (to me, it’s both what you know and who you know), I definitely agree that having a strong […]

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