Monday, 5 November 2012

Who you know or what you know: What really gets you the job?

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone say, ‘When it comes to finding a job, it’s not what you know but who you know.’ I’ve heard this not only from people who are frustrated because they’ve heard nothing from employers they’ve applied to, but also from people who dispense job search advice.

I disagree that being successful in finding employment is all about who you know. That being said, ‘who you know’ often does figure into people’s experiences of finding work. My story about how I ended up working at CAPS is a case in point. I found out that CAPS was looking to hire a coordinator for their career resources centre when I ran into a former classmate who happened to be working at CAPS (and who is now a professor and associate dean at this fine institution). At the time, I was working for a provincial government department setting up a resource library for staff. It was a summer job and summer was coming to an end, so I applied for the job. I was interviewed and…didn’t get it! However, a couple of weeks or so later the director of CAPS called me about an administrative support position. Although it didn’t require a university degree, I took the job. But I was able to move up fairly quickly in part because of the skills I gained from my university degree (and in part because of the opportunities that were presented to me).

So yes, who I knew played a role in my getting the job. If not for my former classmate, I wouldn’t have known that CAPS was hiring (even though the job was advertised), I wouldn’t have applied, been interviewed, been rejected and then hired for a different position altogether. (Who knows where I would be today. Hmmmm…I wonder.) But it was what I knew – the skills, experiences and other qualities I had to offer – that not only got me a job but that also helped me to take on new roles with more responsibilities.

Lesson? When it comes to looking for work, make sure the people you know (i.e., your network) know that you are looking for work. The more eyes and ears you have open for you, the more likely you will learn about opportunities, not only those that are not advertised – part of what we called the hidden job market – but those that are advertised as well.

If I still haven’t convinced you, here’s another case in point. A few of years ago I was looking to hire an events coordinator. I can’t remember how many applications I received – a lot – but five were from people who had had previous experience with CAPS when they were students, either as a volunteer or Career Peer Educator. My director and I both short-listed those five applicants but I also included a sixth. She was someone whom I had never met but who had the skills and experiences we were looking for and who had recently contacted me by email about employment opportunities at the U of A. In my response to her, I mentioned we were hiring. She applied and, much to everyone’s surprise, she was the person we hired. We could have gone with someone we knew and felt would have done well in the job but we decided to go with the strongest applicant (both on paper and in the interview). And she continues to work with us today!

Second lesson? Even if you know an employer is considering someone known to them for a job you’re interested in – for example, the job ad says an internal applicant is applying – don’t let that discourage you from applying. And if you are offered an interview, give it your best shot. You just might be the one who ends up being hired.

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