I am young game designer living in LA. I know I have talent and drive, and I have had some success. But there just doesn’t seem to be any hope for me because it is so clearly who you know, not what you know, that counts.
I see peers getting opportunities I should be getting but I just don’t have the connections they have.
I know I should be networking but I feel funny about doing it—and I just can’t stand all of the fake sucking up that goes on. What do you think?
You’re right—it is who you know. Career success will come to you as a result of your talent and work ethic plus your ability to create and nurture a strong network of relationships. That’s just the way it is. People like to work with people they know and like. And if they don’t know and like someone who can do a job, they will ask other people they know and like if they know of anyone who can do the job.
When I was a young actress in New York, I used to lament along with my friends that it was all about who you know. Nothing drove us crazier than the children of stars. Now I see so many successful people who had parents who worked in their industry. It often takes two or more generations to get someone properly positioned. Some professions are just that competitive. However, I’ve also seen the most unlikely success from people who had no connections or support whatsoever. So anything is possible, truly, with talent and hard work—and the willingness to connect to the people who are looking for exactly you.
What I am saying is this: if your success hinges on who you know, you’d better get cracking on getting to know people. Find networking opportunities that involve contests so you get to show your work. Get interested in others: decide who is doing work that is interesting to you and ask them for an informational meeting. Many will blow you off, but you’d be surprised how many people are inspired to help young talent. You have to play the “No Game”—set out at the beginning of each day trying to get as many “No’s” as you can. In many entry level jobs, this is done by cold calling. Is it hard? You bet it is! It depends on the industry, but in the New York theatre world the ratio was approximately 24 “No’s”—auditions, calls to agents and casting directors—for every “Yes.” Create a relationship map of all the people you need to know and create a strategy to move each of them from a stranger to a power fan. For an article telling you how to do this, click here.
Get clear about your goals and make them super specific. Tell them to everyone who will listen—you just never know where your break will come from. Identify the companies you want to work for and ask for an informational interview at all of them. Stay on top of their websites and apply for any job you can get. One young woman at our company interviewed for four different jobs before she got hired. She didn’t land exactly where she wanted, but she is making a splash and I am sure will get there shortly.
You don’t have to be a fake suck up, but you do have to figure out a way to be interested in others and find something to like about every person you meet. And you have to apply all of your analytical thinking and discipline to finding ways to stay in touch with people who interest you—and to keep them interested in you. If this sounds like a full time job, that’s because it is. And everyone has to do it: every person in sales, every person who has a regular job in a regular company, everyone who wants to do well and get promoted at their job. Everyone.
You may have heard that fortune favors the brave. In my experience this is true, but I would add that fortune also favors those who set specific goals and enroll others in helping them to achieve those goals. You can’t do it alone, so start building your army of fans right now.
I’m quite certain this is not what you wanted to hear. Nobody wants to hear that talent and hard work are not enough. But it’s true.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!