It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
You may have heard this before when it comes to finding a job or (even once you have a job) that coveted promotion. Do I think it’s true? Yes and no.
Do I think it’s purely who you know that can get you ahead in the workplace? No. But I don’t think you can get ahead purely on skill and knowledge either.
What I think it takes is a good blend and balance of both skills. We, generally, tend to overestimate skill and undermine relationships when it comes to the workplace. We tend to forget that in any work environment, communication is the foundation for success and growth. However, communication is not just a skill, but a networking tool and relationship builder.
I have found that when you have common passions, skills and talents with another person, you naturally bond and not only want to connect, but see one another prosper. Similarities can help Millennials as they network, but should not confine them. Millennials, tend to build networks with other young professionals, after all, they are fresh out of college, have been working mainly in team environments and are quick to build relationships with other Millennials. This isn’t bad, but there are Baby Boomers and Gen-X’ers who can make up some of the most fruitful networking relationships for Millennials. As Millennials tend to look for a “mentor” figure in an employer over a “boss,” so can these older mentors be the perfect foundation for networking and professional relationships. Building relationships with bosses and professors, who tend to be a generation up from Millennials, can help facilitate your foot into the job that will launch your career.
But once the foot is in the door, networking doesn’t end there. In fact, networking is like a working heart, it’s work never stops. With millennials, research has shown with us we have a sense of entitlement that can sometimes hinder our networking skills. Sure, we may be in tune with our social networks, but we tend to walk off a job if we are rubbed the wrong way. We tend to quit when conflict or adversity enter the picture. But we need to remember it’s more harmful than beneficial to burn bridges. After all, you never know when you will need to cross them again.
I quit my part-time job earlier this summer, but when I assessed the relationship with my boss it was one that was toxic and would only hinder my professional growth. In that case, and as I’ll mention below millennials already have a keen sense of what relationships to trim. We just need to remind ourselves to not go overboard and quit a job just because it isn’t glamorous right off the bat. Once we land a job, we need to constantly network and assess our networking relationships and not let our own egos stop us once we feel like we’ve made it.
How to build a village to build your career:
1.) College connections are your best bet
As I am fully enthralled in the job search some of my best connections are those I made through my college experience. I had the benefit of being taught by both prominent professors and professionals in the Western New York community. When working on my degree in Not-for-Profit Management I was taught by professors who are working in the field, they see the quality of work you produce and over a semester’s timeframe grow to understand your passions and skills. While looking for a job, I reached out to these professors who in turn had more ideas for me than I could imagine. Whether it was specific organizations looking for someone like me, or great organizations to get a foot in the door and grow my career, I had a mountain of applications to send out just from these connections.
Also don’t count out the professors who have earned their PhD. Most PhDs have had careers outside the boundaries of higher education. They themselves have built in connections, but more importantly they have educated hundreds of students who go on to working careers. Chances are most keep in contact with a few several dozen former students and keep up-to-date with their career endeavors. They can either recommend you on their first-hand connections, or through former students and a former student is much more willing to take the recommendation from a professor who taught them then from a resume sent in through an electronic job portal.
2.) Don’t underestimate volunteering experiences
If you don’t already, I suggest trying to find a way to volunteer – within reason of course. I’ve had the opportunity to meet wonderful people through volunteering, as well as showcase my own values, talents and passions. Whether it was creating my own fundraising to support a local hospital, or serving at the local soup kitchen, people really appreciate people who volunteer. It takes extra work, but it shows just how much an individual goes beyond and makes a difference. Maybe you have a specific skill an organization can use so you volunteer your time to help fulfill a need, maybe the just need help with simple tasks to keep the ship moving. Whatever the case, lending your hand to help out allows leaders at these organizations to remember you and see just how hard-working you can be. It’s a richer dimension to someone’s work ethic to see them work for someone else when they aren’t getting a tangible reward. Not to mention leaders of not-for-profits you can potentially volunteer at are well-connected in the community. They work with a Board of Directors, which tend to be comprised of prominent leaders throughout the community and seek out partnerships with other organizations to keep their own operations and programs afloat. Don’t underestimate how squeezing in one day to volunteer can lead you to a connection at an organization you are dreaming about!
3.) Social media shouldn’t be forgotten
I’ll admit I’m not the biggest fan of LinkedIn. The aesthetics and navigation can sometimes make my head spin and the creators need to really consider making the platform more user-friendly. However, what I can say is LinkedIn is all about built-in networking. I’ve heard many people state that when looking for a job, they found one through finding a person on LinkedIn, rather than a direct posting. People respond to people. If you’re looking at a specific position, it never hurts to reach out to someone already affiliated with the organization, rather than blindly sending out a resume. It gives that person a sense of who you are without seeing a resume or cover letter, while allowing those tools to reinforce your qualities when you do send in that application. Not to mention, it gives you a better sense of the organization and can help you decide if it is a right fit for you. Even on sites that aren’t geared toward professional networking, posting your interests on your Facebook page, or just simply a status about your looking for a position can have people in your social network on your radar. You never know who knows someone else and just by casting the line into the social media ocean, you can get a lot more bites than just sitting back with your fingers crossed.
Keep your head high and your network wide. Don’t underestimate your skills, talents, passions and maybe most importantly the relationships you build along the way. Yes you can maintain your job, but it takes a village to build a career.