Everyone knows that when it comes to getting a job, it’s who you know. Right? Actually, think again. After counseling and coaching and watching hundreds of successful job searches in my counseling practice, I’d say it’s who you don’t know … YET that matters just as much or more.
When you look for a job using an interpersonal or networking approach, which is still the most productive and effective way for job seekers to find opportunities, you start the search with people you know well in your industry, or with a group of people who are connected to the work neighborhood in which you are trying to find opportunities. If there is low hanging fruit, a job that is known to be open and needs to be filled, and your skillset matches well, it’s true that you might get very lucky very quickly in your search. By asking people in your immediate group of professional connections about jobs they have heard about, you could learn about this opportunity, come to the attention of the workplace through a trusted contact, and land your next job quickly.
But in the experience of my job-seeking clients, it is often the third, fourth, or fifth person they connect with who tells them about the opportunity that is coming up soon at a workplace, or that needs to be filled but there is no posting yet, or that is not even advertised because the need is there but the workplace has not yet posted a position. There is a reason for this.
It is estimated that 80% of jobs are not advertised. To find them you have to go on a hunt. As you talk with friends and friends of friends, especially if you talk with them in the right way, and you are in the right realm where your skills are in demand, by interacting with the third, fourth, or fifth person, going from one trusted contact to another, you are enlarging the range of possibilities to uncover workplaces that could use your help. Some may be advertised, others may not yet be advertised, and still others may never be advertised. There may never be a posting, or there might be a bogus posting, a job posted online to satisfy protocol but the hire is already decided.
When you engage in a process I term “rapid relationship and trust building,” which I describe in my book Job Quest: How to Become the Insider Who Gets Hired, you are setting up a series of vetting meetings with key people who will brainstorm with you. As long as you use the right messaging to open the conversation, you can gain critical insights into the market, work neighborhood, or realm where you are searching. As you work your search, engaging in long gossipy rumor-filled conversations with people in your industry, you will hear about opportunities. This company has a large project that will start in the fall. Another company is expanding rapidly. A law firm just lost a group of partners and associates who moved to a different firm and now that original firm needs to staff up with new people to fill the gap. A friend of a friend tells you that someone with your same skillset who works at her company will be leaving soon to move to another state. Still another person you learn about is pregnant and has told your mutual friend that she will not be coming back, but the company does not know that yet. All of this is good gossip that may lead to opportunities for you.
In the process of talking with many people in the target industry, you also create friendships and trust relationships with a wider group of people who will say good things about you in the grapevine where employers hunt. This is where they find people to hire who are endorsed by people they trust such as current staff. If you are helpful as you network with people in your industry, and you are generous and give back to people who help you to advance your market knowledge, you will rapidly increase the sheer number of possibilities for job opportunities.
You can improve that likelihood even more if you treat everyone you interact with as a genuine new and valued friend, and give back to them. What do you give? Gifts of information, connection, support, and help are appreciated by most people and cost you nothing other than some time. When people recognize that you are a good person, someone they would like to work with or have on their team, they are more likely to informally endorse you to others in the realm, including people in positions to hire or influence the people who hire.
All of this adds up to a greater likelihood of landing a job. We know that 70% of jobs are found by networking. And good networking includes this process of vetting meetings, brainstorming, and giving back to others.
But what about the idea that it’s WHO you know that gets you hired? In other words, Daddy or Mommy has connections and pulls the strings to land you the job, or calls in a favor to get you hired. Isn’t that the real meaning of the phrase “It’s who you know”?
Well, maybe that is the real meaning, but the reality today is different. Okay, you might land a job because Mommy or Daddy pulled the strings, but you won’t keep a job if you are bad at it. Most legitimate workplaces do not like to hire only as a favor, although they will give a candidate a second look as a favor to see if the skills of the candidate match up with their needs. Few workplaces want to waste good money on poor risks. I have occasionally seen people get hired because of a favor, but I have also seen those same people stifled in those jobs because they were nothing more than placeholder positions, not challenging or skill-enhancing jobs.
In addition, if you land a job because of the clout of a powerful person, that process doesn’t do anything positive for your own self-esteem and self-worth. Gaming the system turns out to be as bad for you as it is for the workplace.
When it comes to getting a job by networking, it is often those people you don’t know … yet who will open the door to the job that furthers your career.