Why Who You Know Matters
"It's not what you know, it's who you know." You've heard this saying before, I'm sure. You probably agree. But many smart young people chafe at the notion. Talented, ambitious, and impatient, it can seem like a cop-out substitute for actually knowing stuff, or even worse a valuing of nepotism over merit.
So is the old saw true? At least in my line of work, yes. And here's why.
First, while I agree that it's who you know that's more important, that doesn't mean that what you know is unimportant. Far from it. Knowing people might get you the interview or even the job, but if you can't cut the actual work, that gets exposed real quick. So, by prioritizing who you know, it doesn't mean you don't need to know your stuff.
Second, who you know matters because people are people and not robots. And people want to work with people that they can trust, whether it is bosses hiring underlings or entities hiring consultants. And people trust who they know. Again, knowing stuff (and the credentials that signal that you know your stuff) are important. In some cases, they are extremely helpful in opening the door. But closing the deal requires actually trusting someone, which requires knowing someone, which requires taking time to cultivate a real relationship.
Third, trust matters because ultimately it's the only thing that undergirds a transaction, whether it is an employer getting the most out of her employee or an entity getting the most out of its consultant. Taking as fact that you know how to do what you have been hired to do, the motivation to actually deliver comes from the fact that you are on the hook to do so from someone who has given you his or her trust. You are far more likely to shirk on someone who you won't see again; you are far more driven to perform if asked by someone whose ongoing presence in your life you value.
I've gotten in the habit of orienting my younger staff on these concepts. It's helpful context for them, to take a well-known adage and be able to own why it is true rather than wonder or bristle instead. And it's helpful encouragement for them to take it upon themselves to develop their own personal networks so that they can advance themselves personally and professionally.