The saying goes: “it’s who you know.”
It’s hard to argue with. Almost every gig I’ve gotten while freelancing have been through someone I already knew, or through a reference of someone I’ve worked with.
But I have a problem with the way that saying is phrased. It sounds exclusionary. It sounds like jobs are biased towards well connected people. And while that’s true, it’s not the whole story.
It’s more than just who you know
It’s actually about:
- Who you know
- Being good at what you do
- Working really hard
- Being someone who can hang
Like everything in life, It’s about balance. You could be the best designer ever, but if no one knows it, you’re in trouble. You could try to know everyone, but if you’re not very good at your job, you’re probably not going to get recommended for much.
Don’t be that guy/gal
We’ve all been to networking events where you meet someone who is clearly just interested in getting your card and moving on, not really interested in hearing your story or sharing theirs. That’s not someone I’m interested in having a relationship with. Also, I don’t have cards.
The person who gets the gig is the person who knows how to hang. Nobody hires you because you're the best musician.” — Larry Legend
People aren’t Pogs that can just be traded around. We’re talking about relationships that are established, they are long lasting, and they can fade in and out over a number of years. The people who have recommended me for jobs are not just “connections” that I have. They are friends, former coworkers, and collaborators.
Anyone can know people
I’m not the most sociable guy in the world, but I have been able to build a decent network of folks who care about me, and that I care about. The end goal for me wasn’t to “grow my network,” but it has been a result of my behavior. I am excited about things, I have expressed my excitement, and that has lead me to meeting a bunch of people who are also excited about things.
It can be intimidating to start off a career without knowing many people in an industry. But it’s important to remember that just about everyone has started off their career in the same way.
My last semester of college, I had an assignment to do ten informational interviews with strangers. That was an incredibly daunting task. I had to reach out to people I didn’t know and have a conversation with them!
I’m confident in saying that was the most rewarding assignment I had in my entire experience at school. It got me out of that college environment and pushed me into talking with people who had jobs doing what I wanted to be doing. A few of those conversations have blossomed into friendships that continue today. It was also the beginning of my On Your Way Here project (due for an update one day).
People can tell when you are genuine
Relationships take time. A network of people isn’t something that appears overnight. It comes with doing a lot of good work with a lot of people.
Being genuine and excited about something is a good place to start.