Though the saying goes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” I disagree. Kind of. I believe it is often a combination of both what and who you know that help you succeed. Jobs don’t always go to the most qualified candidate; sometimes they go to the person who was in the right place at the right time, and sometimes they just go to the editor’s niece. You can’t always win.
I used to think it was somehow unethical to use a connection for professional gain, but I’ve come to realize that a) it’s just how things work, and b) just knowing someone doesn’t guarantee you the job, you still have to be able to do the job.
1) Make a list of the people you know who can help you.
Even if your last name isn’t Obama, Gates, or Stronach, you likely know someone who is in a position to help you. Or, if not, you know someone who knows someone.
Want to shoot for the magazine where your next-door neighbour is an editor? Great.
Want to work at that gallery where you did an internship? Perfect.
Your friend’s brother just landed what you think might be your dream job? Awesome!
2) Use the people you know to gain information and opportunities.
It can be as simple as asking your friend’s brother what the submission process is for a job like theirs, or as direct as telling your neighbour that you’d like to shoot for her magazine, and ask if she can put you in touch with the people who can make that happen.
3) Do it.
If someone suggests a helpful connection, do get in touch with them right away. It doesn’t have to be to ask for a job, it could just be to build your network. Show off that new series you’ve been working on, or that recently published illustration. If it’s appropriate, ask if they’d like to meet with you.
4) Don’t expect that the job is yours, just because you know the people in charge.
You should always try to make a good impression. It’s ok to use your connections to get an opportunity, but it’s not ok to coast along without trying. Making assumptions is dangerous.
5) Be tasteful when mentioning your connection.
Don’t say “Ruth is my aunt. She told me if I called you would hire me”. Do mention your connection, but be polite. “I’m a student at Sheridan looking for assisting work with a fashion photographer. Ruth Dowling suggested I get in touch with you to see if there are any opportunities at the studio.”
6) Be grateful.
You are not owed anything. If Ruth helps you, be sure to thank her. Period.
Bonus: Mentioning in your ‘thank you’ that you got in touch with the connection, and telling her how it went means she may be more likely to follow up on her own. (“I hear that you got a call from my nephew. He’s really great, and such a hard worker!”)
Image Sourced from: Wikimedia