It does matter what you know

I was just about to give someone the well known advice “It’s not what you know but who you know.” But then I hesitated. Is that really true? I think this statement overly simplifies the matter. It doesn’t really give good advice at all. It basically says, don’t worry about improving your knowledge or skills, just work on your social connections.

It is of course true that a vast amount of jobs is never advertised or publicly announced, but rather filled through word-of-mouth or networking, aka the “hidden job market.” The only way to access this market is by knowing the right people. Therefore, who you know definitely plays a major part in finding a new job.

It doesn’t just matter who you know, but also what this other person thinks of you. If you know the CEO of a company you would like to work for, but this person thinks you are a complete good-for-nothing this connection won’t get you a job. So unless this person owes you a favor for some other obscure and less than legitimate reason (which I understand is more often the case than one would hope) you knowing this person did not give you an advantage at all.

So in my totally fair dream world I would rephrase the proverb to: It’s not just what you know but also who knows that you do.

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