“IT’S not what you know, but who you know." This piece of business wisdom first appeared almost a century ago and, unfortunately, the name of its creator has been lost along the way.
Its early use was among tradesmen and shipyard workers, where the tone was cynical and the inference that your connections were more important than any qualifications you might have.
In today’s world, is this still true? The answer is yes… and no. In fact, to be relevant today, the quote should be modified to: “It’s what you know and who you know."
Today, your qualifications are essential to getting the right job — but unless you have the right connections, you may not find out about the job in the first place.
Sixty per cent of job vacancies in the United States are not filled by traditional means, but by networking and other informal contacts. Harvard sociologist, Mark S. Granovetter, author of Getting A Job: A Study Of Contacts And Careers, claims that informal contacts account for almost 75 per cent of all successful job searches.
In a close-knit business environment like Singapore, this figure is likely to be higher.
While formal networking events can be worthwhile, do not discount the value of your existing contacts. They know you and trust you and are more likely to refer you to their contacts. Sometimes, it is just a case of letting them know about you.
Twelve years ago, when I was starting my own training business, I was struggling to make the right contacts in a new industry. Then, I mentioned my change of career in a chat with some members of my golf club.
A woman I had known through the club for years said: “Why didn’t you mention this sooner? I’m a training broker and I’ve been looking for someone who trains in these areas for months." Over the next two years, she became my biggest client.
Anyone who has been to a networking function has experienced it. You ask the obvious opening question: “So, what do you do?"
Ten minutes later, your eyes are glazing over as his answer continues long after you have lost interest.
Waffling on about yourself for ages is easy. Encapsulating what makes you unique in a short, sharp and memorable way is extremely difficult — which is why you should be prepared for whenever anyone does ask you that obvious opening question. Think about how you might answer in a way that does you justice.
If a long answer will risk boring them, then how short should it be? Be guided by the news media. The average “sound bite" (the edited excerpt put on air) that is used by the media today is slightly under eight seconds.
This is how long they have determined that it takes to get a message across. Try creating your own sound bite that is around 20 words. For example:
"I’m a business analyst with a particular interest in green technology — not just to save money, but also to generate income."
"I have degrees in IT and psychology, which I believe have equipped me well for a position in high-tech sales."
This includes those functions tagged as networking events and also events where networking — while not the primary purpose — is encouraged. This includes seminars, charity or community events.
With formal networking functions — which generally take place on a regular (weekly, monthly) basis — be prepared to commit to several visits before you assess the value.
The regulars will be used to seeing the “oncers" come and go, and you will notice that they are much more inclusive when you show you will come back.
Your aim when speaking to people at these functions is to invoke the principle of reciprocity. That is, if you give something to someone, then he will feel an obligation to give something to you in return.
This does not mean giving while looking at what you can get in return — that is trading. It means giving without looking for a return, knowing that the principle of reciprocity will ensure that there will be one — although sometimes it will be in ways you never expected.
Master networkers appear incredibly generous with their information, their time and their contacts; but they will all tell you that what they give out is returned many times over. You will hear them say:
“I saw a great article I think may interest you. Let me send it to you."
“I know the manager at that company. Do you want me to put you two in touch?"
“I can recommend a really good supplier for that. I’ll e-mail you their details."
If you overly self-promote or, worse still, sell, you will waste your time. Go armed with a killer sound bite, look for ways to connect with and help others and aim to walk away with two to three worthwhile new contacts. It will pay dividends.