Greedy Goblin

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It's not what you know, it's who you know

The title is the ultimate social excuse for being unsuccessful. It's perfect in multiple ways:
  1. It's social. By believing it the social reiterates the values of knowing and meeting with people. You know, "being social". One can waste his whole day socializing and making himself believing that he is progressing his career. Maybe the guy I just drank a beer with will be the next Mark Zuckerberg.
  2. It has a huge luck effect included. You either born into a powerful and rich family or you did not. You were either the college roommate of the later president of your country or you were not. It's noting you can do about it. And there was nothing you could do about earlier. You can be totally unsuccessful and without blame.
  3. It's unquestionably true. I mean it's obvious that successful people know other successful people while unsuccessful people barely know any successful ones. 
Let's see a simple WoW example: the WoW guild Method, the first guild killing H Nefarian without stacking druids and second among all. It's unquestionable that if I could get in a Method raid, I could get 13/13 while being AFK. If only I knew them... Bad luck, right?

No! It's pretty easy to know Method, as they have a quite including message: "Method is always on the look out for the world's best players and exceptional applications of any class will be considered, we are especially looking for the following classes:", followed by the list of 14 classes/specs. Then you have to register on their forum (free and simple) and then fill out their form. Their form questions are a bunch of basic info (character link, your personal data) followed by questions like: play time, UI screenshot and description, availability, leveling speed, previous guilds, PvE experience, combat logs, PvP experience, computer info, "why do you want to join". Only one out of the many questions asks " Is there anyone in Method who can vouch for you?", and I assume he should vouch for my skills and not for me being "fun peep".

That's strange. These are bunch of professional questions. No fuzzy social stuff. And something tells me that my application would be turned down. And I think if 5-10 Method members would vouch that I'm the "coolest dud" in the World, I'd still be turned down. Mostly because of my 1/13 progress in late May and my random availability. Every HM guild I heard of has such open application method.

The same for professional life: of course I know a lot of senior engineers and industrial executives, but not from the pub. I've never hang out with any of them. We met in conferences, knowing each other from publications and reviews before actually meeting. You can meet them too ... if you write a good paper and have at least a poster in a conference.

I also know lot of guys from games, schools and such. Does it help them to get into the industry? Not at all. Why, and especially how could I help someone get an engineer or even machinist job without degree, experience, availability?! They can hang out with me till the end of the World and they still won't get a bit ahead. On the other hand getting a degree would clearly help as the industry is sucking up every possible applicant. The engineer and even machinist unemployment is practically zero, while you can't throw a stone without hitting an unemployed marketing or media assistant; social worker or "business associate".

People get "inside" by what they know and after that they get to know other people inside. They first work together, then maybe hang out together and not the other way around. Knowing someone inside socially may saves you some googling and paperwork but won't help in anything fundamental. Successful people won't risk their own professional reputation (or even their position) by vouching for someone who will fail. We can separate social and professional life completely. Those who can't, fall soon as there is competition for every seat, every position. Your chances of getting away with vouching for a moron is like getting away with no interrupting in P2 Nefarian in a Method raid.

They may able and willing to drop freebies to their friends and affair partners, but not on the professional line. It's much more safer and cheaper to buy your nephew a new car on his birthday than getting yourself fired for placing him into the company. Of course there are counter-examples but they are actually not counter examples. They are examples for someone trying to be nepotist, being caught, destroyed and ceremonially expelled.

The way to get in is not knowing them. It's being them.

 PS: commenters claim that among equally skilled professionals the known one is always chosen. Except "equally skilled professionals" is an illusion coming from being unable to assess ones skill unless you are also skilled in that field. I doubt that my mum could tell a fresh lvl 85 from a Method member. In her eyes both are top level WoW players. Also, Arthasdklol can't tell the difference between an enchanted-gemmed, properly speced guy in 346 blues and an unenchanted frost mage spamming fireballs in PvP epics (otherwise he wouldn't be one). So in his eyes, there are two players, and the less progressed (ilvl) is unfairly preferred by his no-lifer friends. In your eyes two guys with engineer degree are the same, so you believe that the one who gets all the promotions, prizes and salary raises is just lucky or being unfairly preferred. On the other hand I can tell that one is just a machinist whose father bought him a diploma, while the other is the next James Watt candidate.

    28 comments:

    spinksville said...

    Why do you think people who go to professional conferences spend so long chatting to other attendees and networking?

    Squishalot said...

    Do you have any idea of the context that the phrase is supposed to be used in?

    The idea of "it's who you know" assumes the basic knowledge you need to get a task done. It doesn't matter if you're a rocket scientist or a junior accounting manager - as long as you are capable of doing what needs to be done.

    The concept behind it is based on the idea that if someone is presented with two choices: a) someone they know, who can do X (the desired thing), and b) someone they don't know, who can do X and Y (something not essential, but a nice-to-have), they will often take person A.

    The key thing in the equation is that you need to have the essential skills to get in the door in the first place, and it is this point that you don't seem to appreciate. Unless you have the skills to help Mark Zuckerberg, why would he help the guy at the bar out? The key point is, if he needed an engineer, he's more likely to turn to someone that he knows or has met, or someone that a friend can vouch for, rather than turn to you, who hasn't socialised with him and has had no interaction with him, unless your skills are somehow universally unique.

    Azuriel said...

    If your goal was to join Method, not as one of their elite raid team, but as possibly a F&F and receiving the benefits of seeing how successful players play (and getting into their 3rd alt 13/13 farms), knowing a member would likely bypass the entire application process.

    Most people who use the phrase "it's not what you know, it's who you know" do not make the claim you can be a total moron and get places by nepotism (although that clearly happens sometimes). What they mean is when a job position opens up and suddenly Company X gets 1000 resumes from 1000 equally qualified people, knowing the exec or having a contact on the inside can possibly bypass the company even posting the job description at all.

    I get what your point is here insofar as people can use the statement as rationalization to not improve themselves. Then again, I spent 14 months out of work before landing my current position not on the strength of my application (I'm overqualified anyway), but because I knew a guy who knew a guy. If Method suddenly got 500 applications from people that all looked like they would be valuable additions to their raid team, you can be sure as hell that the "can someone vouch for you" question becomes the deciding factor.

    Gevlon said...

    @Spinks: being bored I guess. Never seen any point doing so.

    @Squishalot: My point is that if I'm in his industry and doing my job good, I'm destined to bump into him. The World is just too small. Sooner or later, just by working, without ANY socializing he will get to know me.

    Samus said...

    Raids are different than real life in some extremely important ways.

    First, there are objective ways to measure performance, and combat logs to record that data. In real life, it is very difficult to tell how good a manager or executive is at their job.

    Second, (current) raids will fail if one person screws up or does not carry their weight. Real life just isn't that hard, and one executive can be fairly useless, but not have any significant negative impact on the company.

    So imagine a raid which is a fairly easy encounter, that can be done by 20 people but you can bring 40. Also imagine that the raid leader doesn't see the encounter or any of the logs, he just knows the boss was killed after X minutes and hears about it from the members.

    Immediately, players form buddy groups to support each others claims of skill (regardless of how good or bad they actually performed). Remember, the players themselves don't see any combat logs either, so many of them THINK they performed awesomely when they actually sucked.

    The groups also help to assign and deflect blame. Let's say guy A died because he was standing in the fire. There are no logs, so the raid leader only knows he died and wants to know who is to blame. But guy A has a strong group of friends who all agree to blame innocent healer B. Having played in PUGs, you know it is very likely they actually THINK IT IS healer B's fault. Healer B is fired from the raid. He did nothing wrong, but he did not have the right friends.

    This is how office politics form in the real world.

    Buboe said...

    Gev,
    Spinks is right.
    What you're missing is that not everyone who wants/needs an introduction or a boost is a retard.
    Skill+social contacts>=skill
    Thats why busy, successful people network, and why professionals spruik each others' careers. It's a positive sum game for both sides.

    Casper said...

    What you describe is all true in a capitalist society. In a feudal society, like today's Poland, which I am witnessing, politicians appoint their families to any jobs they can control. And they can control a lot, all the way down to the local level, there have been rumors of "politically" appointed cleaning ladies. And the best jobs are occupied by cliques, so effectively only a child of a lawyer can become a judge or trial lawyer.

    Casper said...

    Just a short addition to my post: this is all, of course, not to say that hard-working people can't make a living or rise to high positions, but the industries in which this is possible are getting fewer, glass ceilings abound and tax burdens are not decreasing.

    dehna said...

    Haha, Azuriel: "Most people who use the phrase "it's not what you know, it's who you know" do not make the claim you can be a total moron and get places by nepotism"

    You don't live in Croatia. This is the main problem in state owned companies. The number of morons working just because they had connections makes a sane person take drugs. I could write a million horror stories, but this is not the topic of this post.

    chewy said...

    This is essentially a re-write of your nepotism-vs-goblinism post.

    As others have commented you seem to be missing the context of the phrase which is a bit unfortunate because otherwise what you say has merit.

    "Who you know" doesn't compensate for everything else but it can help you progress a problem when "what you know" isn't sufficient.

    Grim said...

    @The P.S.
    Yes, if you have the time to examine them all.

    Now suppose you had to hire an engineer. You know some dude who is looking for work and you know that he would do a good job. Not stellar, but good.

    There are also ~50 CVs from people who are qualified for the job and have some experience doing something similar. None of them particularly stands out.

    Do you spend time trying to find the best candidate, or just take the dude you already know will do a good job? What if you start examining the other candidates closely and one by one you carefully judge them to be less suited for the job than your buddy? Do you go through all 50 or just give up and hire your buddy at some point?

    Figuring out exactly how good a person is for a job takes time and effort often best spent elsewhere when a reliable candidate is at hand. Even if that means passing up possibly better candidates.

    P.S. A lot of people are really bad at their jobs. A lot of people who are good at their own jobs would be horrible at the jobs that they hire other people for. Thus a lot of hiring happens half-blindly and trusting a previous acquaintance is often the safest bet.

    Anonymous said...

    @dehna, I feel your pain, Italy is in a pretty bad shape too concerning nepotism and (lack of) meritocracy.

    It's really a different world from countries in which meritocracy actually works, that's why the most bright people actually go abroad and get much higher pay, much better opportunities without the hassle of having to "oil" the right cogs or having to bear inept collegues or bosses which are there because of "who they know".

    pippen1001 said...

    I´ve been a Space engineering student since 2004 and i´ve never seen anyone inside the real space industry community, but now as my studies are nearly complete, and i´ve been working 150% since november on a unmanned aerial vehicle project for a shot at being on a esa mission this october, our group was sent down to esa:s headquarter for testing estec in holland this last week. There i met real people in the space industry amongst esa, and they truly liked our pojects progress. We got things like industry standard on our work, and best document they´ve ever seen by a student group.

    What i was trying to get out of this is that by working hard and standing out from all the trash thats been singled out during hte way, and showing the right people we got the right stuff, we are ready to move and work for them.

    Anonymous said...

    @Squishalot - The phrase does not equal "it's not what you know as long as you know enough, its who you know."

    The phrase in question, "it's not what you know, it's who you know", clearly defines it's own parameters, context does not change those parameters. Squish, it is you that assumes "the basic knowledge you need to get a task done". It is that assumption that validates Gevlon's post and makes you a social.

    Anonymous said...

    That phrase is perfectly correct and makes sense, just look at politicians and how do partys work, having "skill" means nothing just as long as you know the "right" persons and can look good while talking.
    To anyone that says I am wrong, I would advise that you take a look at any the papers that are published by the goverments saying the new hires and promotions and whatever, and note down the names and see where those guys/girls are, even if they are not working for the same company, I can bet they will be in a company that has some conection to the place they were before.

    @anonym:
    I am sure that squish is a social, but I also know that he is a quite inteligent person and is quite thorough on his aproach on whatever he does coment.
    he has saved me countless hours sifting for shit in google, with his posts on wowhead

    Ephemeron said...

    One's address book/contact list is neither a panacea that solves all life's problems nor a worthless social toy. It's a useful yet situational resource like any other, and should be treated as such.

    Anonymous said...

    It is common to read that the majority of people find their "white collar" jobs in the US via their contacts and that the better companies tend to get a lot of their non-college hires from referrals. For most people and jobs, who you know will affect your lifetime earnings.

    What squish et al are referring to is
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satisficing

    In business school, I was taught this is fairly common. You find the applicant who is the "best fit" from all the applicants who are well-qualified.

    There may be a few jobs like theoretical physicist or mathematician or stock picker where only solitary competence matters, but they are rare. The more people you interact with at work, the more important your interpersonal skills are. An entry-level technical person like an engineer or accountant might interact with fellow employees less than most. But if they get promoted, the management and interpersonal skills become more valuable and the technical skills less so.

    So I evaluate my hires on their pure skills as well as the intangibles. There are people who may be "better" at their job but whose personality makes them an inferior employee. ( Part of their defects may be they do not understand why this is. )

    So the referrals can help the company and the employee find the right fit. A hyper-aggressive, Objectivist goblin might be a horrible manager at a charity to help the underprivileged but a great fit in the sales department at Oracle or Microsoft. The goal is not to find the "best" accountant it's to find the person who would do the best, which includes cost-effective, at filling the position I am hiring them for (and for companies with the resources to grow, the positions they could be promoted into.)

    Who you know is certainly not the most important thing; but it is certainly important.

    thehampster said...

    Sorry Gevlon, but the business world is not a strict meritocracy. Connections are extremely important. They open doors for you (of course if you're an idiot you'll still fail).

    One of my friends is the youngest VP in the history of his enormous corporation. Why? Because he has a zero handicap in golf. He always got invited to play golf with the senior corporate leadership whenever they were in town.

    Sure, he would have eventually been successful anyway. But the connections he made greatly helped him.

    thehampster said...

    I'd also add that the farther you move up in the world, the more important social skills become.

    Sure, you'll function fine as an engineer working for a company if you're asocial. But, the guy with better social skills(and probably good hair and nice clothes) will eventually get promoted to be your boss.

    In government areas, social skills often are king. I work in the government, and it's insane how stupid some of the super idiots are who get promoted.

    Ðesolate said...

    I work in the Industry and I‘m studying engeneer. I know several people in my buisness, since I did my whole 3,5jears to get my electronics qualification.

    By knowing them I got several jobs. But what did they tell their bosses to get me in?
    clearly not “that dude is some real cool fun guy“

    I wouldn‘t got past the main gate. It is my technical qualificatin, my ability to add my weight to any team and my uncomplicated personality.

    I hope you see the difference it‘s worth some thousand euros a month.

    Anonymous said...

    I find this post somewhat interesting in light of the other recent post about "Scrubs" and what is "cheap" in a game.

    Networking is just another one of those tactics some might call "cheap". Other posters have already clarified that the saying does not mean an unqualified individual will get a position over a qualified one, it's that if A and B (who are approximately equally skilled) want a job; and B just tries to let his work speak for itself while A does that AND advertises himself...A is more likely to get it, all other factors being equal.

    Anonymous said...

    Networking is not a tool for a complete moron and unqualified player to become accepted into Method. It is a competitive advantage to send a someone who is already close, over the edge and land them the job/raid spot. When looking at the extreme's it is always easy to justify your theories, which I believe happens quite frequently in Gevlon's posts. In order to prove a hypothesis you have to look at the general public, who in actuality isn't morons. In the real world someone isn't going to recommend their clumsy friend to work in an antique store. Their going to recommend the friend who has expierence collecting and selling antiques in order to give them the extra required jump to push them above the competition.

    Squishalot said...

    @ Anonymous 13:12: Social =/= bad. Social vs asocial simply represents two different philosophies.

    Having said that, there are few people who use the phrase to mean that "I can know nothing but get where I want to be by leeching off who I know". They are the exception, rather than the norm. Context, as with everything else in the English language, is important.

    @ anonymous 14:32 - glad I can help!

    @ Gevlon (re: PS): Your mother may not be able to tell the difference between a fresh level 85 and a Method member, but by the same token, she won't be able to use that additional information. The lack of knowledge to assess skills by the user is applied equally to both parties. If you can't assess skills accurately, then your additional 'what you know' is irrelevant, because it's not accurately assessable either!

    I'm currently (in real life) looking for a financial modeller. I have a list of essential skills I need in a person, and a list of desired skills that I'd like to have in a person. If there are two people who have both of these lists, then I will examine them both. If it comes down to two people who meet the criteria, but one is a friend/colleague whose work I have seen before (and knowing that they can do the job), and the other is someone who has an extra year of experience, I will go for the person whose work I know, because there I know what I'm getting, there is no risk, whereas I am gambling that the extra year's experience is worth the potential problems that I will find in their work.

    Anonymous said...

    While I agree with many of the comments here, I would argue that the social strategies employed to gain access to an organization take a back seat to merit once access is gained.
    As someone who has hired scores of people, I will admit that the decision-making process includes determining if they will "fit" based on some social criteria.
    However, I have never given a raise, delivered a review, promoted someone, nor disciplined an employee based on anything other than measurable performance.
    At that point, I don't care who they know.

    Squishalot said...

    @ anonymous 00:32: I have never seen anyone use the phrase to describe anything other than just getting into an organisation, unless they were sleeping with or a personal relative of upper level management.

    Anonymous said...

    I think a lot of people are mis interpreting gevlon's post. He is not stating that connections provide no benefits. He is stating that the best way forward is by enhancing your skills, not by socialising. Most o the time when people talk about networking benefits they use the phrase "it helps open doors", all this means is that it provides a job application not a job.

    Knowing people means they can tell you about a new position, not by automatically getting a job. most of the time the people getting the job were most likely qualified.

    I have a friend who knew a lot of people and so got loads of job applications and interviews, however most turned him down as he was unqualified for most.

    The few examples where someone does get a job their unqualified for gevlon pointed it out in that it will usually end bad, as the guy is caught and fired and the one behind hiring him may also face repercussions. if he ends up keeping the job it may be due to the fact he is good at it, and was able to develop the needed skills.

    Sthenno said...

    This post shows a real lack of connection to the job market and how most people get jobs. If you are a professional in a particular field then qualifications in that field are obviously necessary to get a job. Most people are not in that position.

    I got my job because of who I knew. There was absolutely no way my current employer would have even interviewed me had I not had the connections that I had. There is also no way I would have ever heard that my current job existed without the connections that I had. It was never advertised anywhere.

    And I think I'm pretty good at the job I'm doing, but I know that whether I am good or not, my boss would probably be equally happy if they had hired someone objectively worse than me (to a certain limit).

    For the vast majority of positions, employers want someone who shows up on time and performs competently. That is why who you know is more important than what you know. Having someone vouch for you that you show up to work is better than a degree.

    But this is not just the case for the cogs in the machine, it's true for leadership as well. I can't take seriously the idea that corporate CEOs and hedge fund managers making billions got there because they are good at what they do. If that were the case then they would have shown themselves to be better than coin flips in the 2008 financial collapse. They were just born to the right people and schmoozed with the right people.

    If you want a job, the most important thing is who you know. If you want to be a billionaire, the most important thing is who you know. If you want to be a professional engineer, I bet you are right that the most important thing is what you know. Skilled professions with governing bodies are the exception.

    Stubborn said...

    Gev,
    I know I'm quite late getting into this, as I've been "on vacation" for about a week. However, I think my situation jars with your description of the workplace.

    I am - without a doubt - the most qualified candidate for a lot of the jobs to which I apply. I have a Master's degree and a lot of diverse experience in my field (education). However, I've moved to a small town where my wife got a job and have been unable even to get a job interview for a full time job. I've applied to dozens of locations and haven't even been called. I know these jobs are being filled, and I also know that there's not a ton of Master's educated, experienced teachers moving to this region. The only assumption I can make is that people are being hired locally for jobs by people that they know due to having grown up in the local small towns.

    I have excellent credentials, excellent references, excellent yearly reviews; I've gone to meet the principals at the local schools in person so that they can put a name to a face, and still nothing. I have done basically everything in my power - including taking part time jobs to work alongside some of these locals - to get a full time job, and I don't even get called back for interviews.

    How does this factor in your "the best get hired and knowing people has nothing to do with it" system?