I've always believed that being well-connected isn't all it’s touted to be. Everyone tells you that getting a great job depends on who you know. So how much would you pay for five minutes apiece with vice presidents at three good corporations? I wouldn't give a plug nickel. Why not? Because 10 minutes later they won't know you from Adam.
People prefer to believe that unless they have a big-time inside contact at a company, they have no shot at the job they want. After all, only a few decision-makers in a company really matter, right? Who wants to waste time with nobodies?
Poo on all that, says Duncan Watts, my favorite social scientist. Actually, Watts’ Ph.D. is in theoretical and applied mechanics. But his research at Columbia University is in networks—how people connect with and influence one another. (Watts wrote the best book I know about networking, “Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age.” But don't expect lightweight tips. This book requires you to read carefully and to think.)
So how does this help you land your next job? Simple: Your success hinges more on how good your "idea" is than on who is promoting it—and when job hunting, you are the idea. This is actually just common sense, backed up with some solid research. Watts has done studies that strongly suggest that so-called “influentials” don’t matter nearly as much as people whose ideas and suggestions actually resonate with others. In other words, you may be better off if a couple of programmers in a company make an introduction than if the chairman of the board does. Those nobodies probably know you a lot better than the chairman does, and their words about you will be more substantial.
But doesn’t the chairman’s word carry more weight? Maybe not. In a Fast Company article about Watts (“Is The Tipping Point Toast?”), Clive Thompson summarizes it like this: “Merely talking to a friend once could infect her with an idea. Or it might take several conversations.”
Who is more likely to keep pestering someone at a company about meeting you—the chairman or those programmers? I’ll take the lowly programmers any day. They simply have more time on their hands to spread the word about you, and they’re more likely to find more ways to promote you internally.
In “The Art Of Measuring Influence,” U.K. marketing consultant Max Reyner cites Mark Earls, “a recovering advertising and marketing professional,” on how social influence turns into action: “In reality it’s much messier. It’s not one or two interactions involving a recommendation. It’s several interactions with a number of people that add up to influence.”
And that’s why I think it’s better to have some solid IT grunts nudging a manager—giving her repeated reasons why she ought to meet you— than to wait for some yuckety-muck executive to endorse you.
So poo on powerful "nodes" in your network. I’ll pass on the Kred, Klout, and LinkedIn “endorsements,” and other online vanity credentials. It’s all smelly at best. You don't need a powerful headhunter, or the chairman of a company, to recommend you to a hiring manager. Solid research shows that run-of-the-mill people are among the most powerful influencers, and cultivating them can pay off nicely. The more of them who know you, the better.
In a nutshell, if you want to find your next good job, then go hang out with people who do the kind of work you want to do, in the place where you want to do it. They matter more than “influencers” with phony Kred, Klout, and LinkedIn “endorsements” because they’re actually talking to decision makers about you.