Is it really about who you know versus what you know?


Does who you know in the mining industry outweigh what you know? We look at this age-old adage and whether it's still relevant in the workforce today.

It used to be that personal networks were everything in business. Looking back at the earliest forms of trade, goods were exchanged based on word of mouth and reputation, with transactions the result of loyalty built over generations.

Fast-forward to more modern times and the advent of the corporate world and that premise still rang true for decades, with nepotism and a “jobs-for-mates” culture often seen as standard practice in some workplaces. In other words, it was all about who you knew rather than what you knew.

But with the rise of social media and online networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn, has this old adage been superseded by a fairer workplace system?

According to American entrepreneur, angel investor and author Auren Hoffman, the answer is a resounding yes. In an article published on Quora last year, Hoffman said that until the proliferation of social networks the “who-you-knows” (professions such as investment bankers, corporate lawyers, real estate brokers) had higher earning power and made up most of the best paying jobs over the past 50 years. But today, he argued, that insider knowledge can often be gained simply by browsing the internet and it is better to be a “what-you-know”.

He said while having a large network will always be important, “weak ties” (a person’s network beyond the first 50 closest friends) are much less important today than they were in the past.

“Young people should focus on understanding. Understanding beats networking. Knowledge beats weak ties,” he said.

Applying this to mining jobs in Australia and companies such as Mining People International have been established precisely to bridge that knowledge gap, with advice, industry insight and resources to find and secure employment opportunities.

FURTHER READING: What makes a good recruiter?

As we noted in a recent article published here, while job-seeking platforms such as Seek are on the rise, it is hard for the person on the other end to know who you are really.

“Recruiters take the time to get to know you – so they can present you to employers as a whole person: someone who would fit into the employer’s team because of both your personality and your skills,” the article said.

You’ve got the job! Now what?

But once you’ve landed that sought-after job, what next? How do you go from working at an entry level to senior management?

A 2013 Catalyst study reported in the Guardian concluded that a so-called sponsor (an ally in your current company who will advocate for you and who has the power to effect change) was critical to advancing your career.

“While mentors may be seen as career developers, sponsors are considered to be career accelerators,” Catalyst Europe Director Allyson Zimmermann said.

So how do you get a sponsor? According to Zimmermann, it's often not who you know, but who knows you.

RELATED: How we are beating unconscious bias and you can, too.

“Sponsors tend to find their protégés directly. This will usually happen organically through work projects, recommendations, and informal networking,” she said.

How to attract a sponsor

Her top tips for attracting a sponsor include:

  • Develop a reputation as a respected colleague
  • Prepare an elevator speech about your work and value to the company
  • Manage your career: know what you want, ask for feedback and follow it
  • Aim for multiple sponsors with different points of view

Zimmermann also said a person did not need to be at the top to start championing their colleagues, noting that a sponsor could be working with people a few levels below them.

And just for good measure the research showed sponsors themselves advanced further and faster within their organisations because they were investing in the next generation of leadership.

Is your career where you thought it would be right now? Book a career guidance session to help you find your best fit.

Beatrice Thomas
Mining People International