Blowing in the wind
I looked down at the envelope in my hand. It seemed too thin to be good news. I did not want to open it. If it was what I thought it was, this would be the 7th such rejection.
Nevertheless, I girded myself and opened it, hoping that I was wrong.
Sadly, this was one of the few times in my life I was right.
“…we regret to inform you that your candidature was not successful. We wish you all the best…”
I crumpled the letter. This was a company I really liked – it would have been a dream job.
What the hell was I doing wrong?
I was doing everything the experts told me to do.
“Do your research,” they said.
“Create an amazing cv and cover letter,” they advised.
“Prove that you are versatile,” they recommended.
“Prepare for your interview diligently,” they instructed.
“Ensure that you follow-up,” they prescribed.
I followed all these ‘best practices’ even though I realized that 8 million other eager professionals were also doing exactly the same. The fact is that we were reading from the same playbook, and listening to the same ‘experts’. I was just another leaf in the Amazon rainforest.
How would I be seen? And noticed? And thought worthy of being offered a job?
What made me special? Why should a company choose me over someone equal in most if not all respects?
Lost and clueless, I did what I always did best – went to my mentor to ask for his advice.
Is it me you’re looking for?
“Okay, Shesh,” he said, after he had listened patiently to me pouring my woes. “Let me ask a hypothetical question.”
“Let us say that you were the captain of a basket ball team. One of your players leaves. You have to replace him. How would you do this most efficiently?”
“Well…” I racked my brains. “Well, yes, I would either look at good players from other teams that we have played, or I would ask my team players or the coach to recommend candidates they feel would be a good fit.”
“Very good,” he said, “and if you were the president of a prestigious social club, and wanted to add new members, would it be more efficient to put out an ad or ask your current members to recommend friends?”
“Of course I would ask the current members!” I said, without hesitation.
“Why did you respond the way you did?” he asked.
“Well, a player whose capability is known is a much better option than an unknown one. And a friend of an existing club member is more likely to fit in to the club much better. Isn’t this obvious?” I said, puzzled that he even had to ask this question.
“Very true,” he said. “Then why do you believe that organisations think any differently?”
“Organisations are just like teams or clubs,” he said, smiling a little at my gawkish response. “They want the best fit, the best candidate, the employee who can add most value. However robust or structured their hiring process may be, wouldn’t they be more comfortable with a known quantity rather than have to test an unknown one?”
It’s not what you know; it’s who knows you
“You mean…” I started hesitantly, “You mean companies hire only through referrals and recommendations?”
“I am saying that if they have a choice, they will surely do so,” he said. “Wouldn’t you?”
I looked at him, my mind racing. Various instances ran through my head. My tennis partners; our quiz group; the intern we had just hired.
“Wow!” I exclaimed, “You are absolutely right. Almost every social and sports group I am part of is a result of recommendations and networks!”
“Our whole life is a result of networks,” he said calmly, “your parents’ choice of your school; the college you decided on; the friends you have; the woman you married; the day-care centre your son goes to. Almost every decision we take, we take after consulting people we trust, finding recommendations from forums we find credible.”
“However,” he added, “it is puzzling that when it comes to our careers, we believe we can find our dream job by shooting off applications by the dozen, and attending cold-call interviews. Companies are run by people, you know, and people behave the same outside them and in them.”
“So, finding your dream job is less about research or cvs or cover letters or interviews. Oh, all these play a part. But, it is more about you, your achievements, how well you are known, who knows you, and their perception of you. Does this make sense?”
Network = Net Worth?
It made sense. It made a whole lot of sense. Just because a company is run with policies and processes, that does not mean that people change the way they were conditioned to behave.
“So, what you are saying is that,” I said tentatively, “without a strong network, I have no hope of finding the job I want?”
“No,” he said, a little impatiently, “I am saying that with a wide network, with a reputation that precedes you, you can ensure that you get your dream job.”
“If you are a good basketball player, but no one knows of you, why will anyone choose you for their team?” he continued, “If you are a successful and likeable person, but are unknown to the social club, why will they believe you are a suitable member?”
“Remember,” he said, “A network is like a stage. Without one, you are part of the passive audience in the dark, unknown and unseen. With one, you are in the spotlight, and you are visible to the world.”
As I walked home, I replayed the conversation in my mind. It seemed so obvious now. The 4 takeaways I left with were not just for me, but valid for anyone seeking their dream job.
- People prefer to hire and work with those they know and trust.
- A wide network helps us become known and builds a positive perception.
- This will make it easier for people to find us and hire us.
- We still have to go through the hiring process, but we will start with an solid advantage.