It’s True, It’s Not What You Know
It’s an old cliché, and it’s deeply embedded into our societal inequality, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
Our networks are a fuel that directly correlate with the opportunities that come our way, and knowing the right person to turn to at the right time can be the difference maker at crucial moments.
“Weaker” links in our social chain are the ones which are more likely to recommend us for things and put us forward for openings that we could never know about, that wouldn’t be visible to us, or that we’d not think to put ourselves forward for.
These “interpersonal ties” coined in 1973 by Mark Granovetter in his paper “The Strength of Weak Ties” are a crucial tool in your career development.
Granovetter is a sociology professor at Stanford and his paper was so ahead of its time, 30 years before we knew anything about social media.
More than 40% of jobs are found through personal referrals, so these weak links are a massive factor in finding new opportunities.
But gaining, managing, and building those social relationships is hard.
We often undervalue “soft skills”. Even by calling them “soft skills” we’re suggesting they’re not as valuable as “harder” skills.
Being an interesting neighbour at an awards dinner or a worthy conversation at a networking event requires you to be an interesting person with something worthy to speak about. So much of that can depend on your background, early experiences, and upbringing.
If you are a keen cricketer and the key contact at the investment firm you’re targeting plays for their local team then you immediate have a connection. If you went to the same university or have a passion for history you can build stronger links in sales pitches.
You have things that make you interesting, relatable, and good company. And those things can increase the likelihood that someone will want to work with you, feel excited at partnering, or think of you at the crucial moment when someone mentions an adjacent opportunity.
But these things are not fixed states.
We can build better networks, it is in our power but it isn’t easy and needs commitment. One entrenched inequality I see in the startup world that drives me spare is this idea that everyone would have a mate who’s a lawyer who can help them out from time to time, or who was in university halls with someone who is now an accountant.
Or worse still, the jobs which are given to the friend’s son for no better reason.
Most people just don’t have that social infrastructure, and you can’t build those kinds of relationships overnight.
There are two ways you can start to build your network: meet people and create value.
Meeting people can be difficult, but doesn’t have to be. The best shortcut I found in the early days was to simply ask interesting people in meetings who else they thought I ought to speak to. This was a great way to get warm and fairly qualified introductions that could exponentially grow my network. If every meeting leads to three new intros then one meeting a day for a week fills the diary for the rest of the month.
You can map out who you would like to meet against your milestones, there are useful tools for this, and then use social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to work out how you might be able to get in touch with people.
I’ve had great success just sending a polite DM on Twitter or LinkedIn, and many more were failed efforts. But that’s when the Michael Jordan quote comes into play.
We can be more interesting people, by taking up hobbies, having an opinion on topics, and having good stories to tell. Hobbies are disproportionally taken up by people who earn more, live in certain parts of the country, and have specific professions. Make time to do things that make you more interesting, knowledgeable and relatable.
This isn’t an inclusive act. There will always be people who have a preference to work with folks who they feel like they’d enjoy having a pint with. That’s the same in business, politics, and social life. Sometimes you need to shapeshift and realise when you fit and when you need to adapt.
My deep belief is that we can overcome this with what we do on a day to day basis, by creating an environment where people can connect on shared interests and with similar goals. There’s a future article in this on nation building coming in the future.
Do you feel in control of who you know? How much time do you invest into building your network and being a more interesting person?
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