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Is Success Still About Who You know?

Like many before me I have been on the receiving end of the “I’m sorry, we have recruited from within” phone call. From within what, the company? The family? A close circle of friends? It does make you wonder. So I am going to start by saying somewhat jadedly yes, success is still about who you know – but I will slowly work my way back to sitting on the fence, and here’s why…

If you take the above question at face value and think of extremes, you are left with a sense of ‘who’ versus ‘what’, and in this case there’s little wiggle room. There has to be, to an extent, knowledge and experience playing a part in the role, otherwise we would end up going into surgery and being operated on by the untrained golfing buddy of the head surgeon. (I realise “surgeon” is a drastic place to start but it proves a point.)

Not to undermine any profession but could the same be said for basic admin, back office jobs or any entry level position in most organisations? When very little prior knowledge of a job is needed or can be easily learned, what’s to stop family and friends waltzing into jobs? Even more likely, again, within family run businesses.

With knowledge and experience being taken into account, the idea of gaining employment or success through developing “professional” relationships pulls away from the clear cut nature of ‘who’ versus ‘what’. Leaving you with who and what you know. Working hard, going the extra mile but falling short because you didn’t go to the right lunches, or spend an extra five minutes asking the right people about their lives… “Wow, you have how many cats?! And they have their names embroidered on hand knitted sweaters? Please, please continue.”

Two people applying for the same promotion, one of whom is slightly less qualified but happens to enjoy a few of the same hobbies as the manager – I know who I would put my money on getting the job.

Therein lies the question behind the question; at what point of success do you apply the idea that achievement was gained by knowing someone over knowing something? Say for example, you get a job by knowing the employer, spend the next year working hard, get a promotion and so on and so forth, where would you draw the line? Was success here achieved through knowing whoever got you the job or working hard after catching a break?

Any sort of statistical proof to back claims made from personal experience and the experience of others has been hard to come by. I can’t imagine anyone would openly admit to hiring the wrong person for the job because they liked them a little more.

I did, however run a little survey. (I say ‘survey’: I harassed friends, family and colleagues asking them the above question.)

It’s safe to say the in depth answers I received shaped this post a great deal. However when pushed for a one word answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, the outcome was almost unanimous. Out of the 70 participants involved 61 came back with a strong and unwavering YES! Seven, like myself, refused to jump off the fence. Leaving only 2 people who believe the well connected do not receive special treatment.

In conclusion, I think you always have to be qualified for the job, no matter who you know. But if there is ever a close call between people, if you are in that social circle or already know somebody there, then you’ll always have the edge and will most likely be favoured above the competition.

But you could always argue that the people who network and use websites like LinkedIn are intentionally getting to know the right people, giving them ‘that edge’. They are the people that will do their best. They are qualified (what they know) and they have pushed themselves to the front socially (who they know) of their own accord.

So for now, I’m nice and snug back on the fence… Until the next time I get overlooked for a new job or promotion.

By content assistant – Simon Weise

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