You need both skills and connections to succeed in your career. But the best news is that at the start of your career when your skills are less developed you can compensate by working very hard on your networking.
So why are connections so important? In theory everyone always chooses the best person for the job. Except that they don't. They can't. It's impossible because of our imperfect knowledge -- somewhere out there is the person we need but we don't know who it is. It's also impossible because if everyone went to the best person that person would be very busy and unavailable.
In reality when people say that they are choosing the best they often mean that they are choosing the best person from the pool of people that they know, or that their friends know. In other words they are looking for people in the intersection of the sets "people who can do the job" and "people I know". Your problem is simply to be in that intersection. You don't need to be the best at your job but you do need to be widely known to hear about interesting opportunities.
There's a way to visualize this concept. Imagine that you are a photographer living in a small town. There is only one other photographer in town. Now suppose that you spend every spare minute honing your skills and mastering new techniques until you are the best. Meanwhile your rival is hanging out at chamber of commerce mingling evenings, attending conferences, doing pro-bono work for charities and other opportunities for meeting people. Ms Rival is known to everyone in town. You are not. Who do you think the townspeople are going to call when they need a photographer?
Once you have superior skills if you start networking more effectively you have a chance of taking some of the business away from the rival, but in this situation connections will always trump skills. This means that networking can be especially useful at the beginning of your career when perhaps your skills are not so polished, but simply being known gets you the work.
But what about the cases where a job is advertised and anyone can apply. You might think that connections are irrelevant in these situations but this is not true. Many jobs are not advertised and no advertising campaign can ever reach the entire population. This means that you are still reliant on your network to hear about unadvertised jobs and simply to see the ads for the ones that are advertised. There is no time when connections are meaningless.
Lectures, Workshops, Coaching and Writing
Andrew Hennigan provides lectures, workshops, one-to-one coaching and writing about networking, influencing, speaking and other communication topics. To book a session email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0046 730 894 475 or 0033 6 79 61 42 81. You can also find out more at http://andrewhennigan.com
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