Career success? It’s not just about who you know anymore…

“In business, it’s who you know – not what you know – that matters”. This is a commonly expressed view, and one that often ran through my mind as I neared the end of my management degree nine years ago. While I was lucky enough to attend university, and had worked part time as a waitress, a factory worker and in retail, I had never completed a formal internship or worked in an office. I was in awe of my peers who had parents in high places, and as I started my career I accepted “it’s who you know” as validation of my limited potential to be successful.

After working in the corporate world for 8 years, then switching careers to become a coach, I have a problem with taking this statement at face value. While there is no getting away from the fact that family connections and having friends in high places can lead to opportunities; believing it’s all about who you already know undermines our power and ignores the importance of investing in new relationships.

Colorful Toothed Wheels

When I was exploring becoming a coach, I didn’t know any coaches well. I had come across a few throughout my career, but relations were distant and I held no loyalty with them. As I started to research the coaching profession, I knew I needed to know more.  I started proactively reaching out to distant connections, asking if I could take them for a coffee to find out more about their career path. I also asked my close friends and colleagues if they knew any coaches they could introduce me to. Sometimes it’s easy to forget the breadth of our 2nd degree connections, and  friends may have close relationships with people we simply don’t know existed.

At first I felt a little uncomfortable about doing this. It wasn’t my usual style to boldly reach out to people I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to get a reputation for pestering people.  As time went on and I became more effective and more comfortable at doing this, and was surprised at the number of people that were happy to give up their time to answer my questions when I was clear about my intentions. What I learnt from those chats was invaluable, and it really helped me hone in on what kind of coach I wanted to become.

I also pushed myself to attend more networking events. As I discuss in a previous blog, I have never loved the idea of networking, and pushing myself to attend events such as these is still a challenge for me at times. Connecting with like minded people who have similar interests is powerful, and meeting people at both the early and the later stages of their coaching and career change journeys was equally insightful for me. Hearing other people’s (not so publicly documented) struggles and challenges was reassuring, and made me realise that everyone was a beginner once. 

Free stock photo of stairs, steps, white, railings

“It’s who you know” can be a passive, reactionary way of looking at things. There is no initiative to be taken, and no encouragement to either build on the relationships you have, or invest in connecting with new people. If we accept our current, un-networked and disconnected state as pre-determined and inevitable, we reinforce our powerless position, and shut down the possibilities of what we can do.

Shifting the statement to become “it’s who you meet, and what you do with these relationships” creates more ownership and more opportunities. Harnessing our existing relationships and carving out new ones takes time. It also involves give and take, and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone. While there are a few lucky people in the world with existing connections and opportunities, the rise of industry networking events, professional networking sites and other digital tools highlight how large our extended networks have the power to be.

Being friendly, authentic and proactive when creating and developing new connections goes a long way. Decide who you’d like to connect with and start putting yourself out there today.

What have you got to lose? And what have you got to gain?

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