What’s More Important to Your Career: What or Who You Know?

When it comes to long-term career success: is who you know more important than what you know?

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We’ve all encountered (or even work for) bosses that have climbed to the top of the corporate ladder without really knowing what they are doing and have been left wondering if they were just in the right place at the right time or have a special connection that got them to the top spot.

Being promoted without merit should never be a career goal, but being a good networker and establishing the right connections is a vital component to unlocking career opportunities—whether it’s getting an interview or being put in charge.

Here are four reasons why who you know is so undeniably more important than what you know:

1. Knowledge can be gained, but is useless if no one supports you. No matter what kind of skill or knowledge they’ve gained from school or other formal training, the majority of employees still require on-the-job training. There are even those who get hired without any applicable skills or an ounce of knowhow required to do the job. How? Because of who they know and their reputation. Many jobs are never posted to the public because hiring managers and employers hire people they know or come highly recommended from another professional or acquaintance.

2.  Social media helps widen your “who you know” net. You don’t have to be a trust fund baby or any ivy league graduate to make solid business connections and create a strong reputation. That might have been true in previous generations, but in today’s labor market, social media outlets geared toward professional life, meeting business associates, partners and others makes maintaining a living network the most important part of being successful.

3.    A strong, viable network displays your people skills. Unless you work in (or want to work in) an isolation chamber where the only contact you have is with your lab specimens, your job (or your efforts to find a job) requires you to regularly interact with other people for a large part of your day. Even jobs that don’t seem very sociable require some people skills. For instance, a computer programmer is consider an independent job, but if the person can’t identify with the products end user, success will be a challenge. Employers want to know you have people skills, and there’s no better way to display that than with a first-hand recommendation.

4.  Being liked pays off. Remember picking teams for dodge ball in school? Team captains made sure their friends were always chosen first, leaving the less popular kids to be picked by default at the end. Well, that still happens in the real world.

It’s undeniable that the job market is still tight, and to keep (or get) a foothold in your industry, you must convince someone to keep you employed or hire you. Most people would rather hire someone they are familiar with or comes recommended with a strong track record and work ethic.

Lindsay Broder, The Occupreneur™ Coach (on Twitter @occupreneur), is a certified professional coach based in New York. A Wall Street veteran, she specializes in Occupreneur™ coaching, strategy and crisis management services for executives, business leaders and organizations who strive to improve their businesses or careers.