What and who you know

When I was first starting out as an organizational development consultant, I went to various career seminars given by experienced professionals. One thing that kept coming up was, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

It’s cynical advice, but it’s largely true. You can set up shop and be the very best in the world at what you do, but unless you can “schmooze,” or network, it doesn’t matter. What’s often not mentioned is that this includes keeping track of the people you work with.

Volunteers working together and getting to know each other at an event unrelated to consulting… because I needed a photo for the story.setup

Whether you work with other people as part of a consulting firm, or as an internal resource, it’s important to get to know other people, preferably on at least a mildly personal level, and to track where they go over time. I’ve done work for one person in three different companies, in the course of two years; and I doubt I’m alone. She sought me out as she job-hopped from one place to another, because I could deliver what she needed with a minimum of effort.

If you keep in touch with other people, you have more resources. I’ve had to suddenly find helpers on projects where I didn’t have the expertise I needed, or where I just needed more hands. Those same people, now and then, called me in when they needed help. The wider your network, the more resources you have, and the more you are a resource for other people.

Then there are those times when you’re bidding on a contract, and you get a request for letters of endorsement from three people for whom you’ve done this specific type of work. It’s hard to do if you haven’t been keeping in touch, because people move on — rather quickly, really, in most cases. If you only have someone’s work email or phone number, when you call to check in, they may have changed jobs twice.

Most of you have probably already figured out that going to meetings of professional groups or career fairs and making light conversation that ends with “so, got work?” doesn’t really help, unless you’re really charismatic. That’s not what I mean here, but by all means, find the right professional group — and volunteer to do things. If you’re in business consulting, it doesn’t even have to be a professional group — it could be something like a car club. Most groups need volunteers, and if you do good work there, even if it’s unrelated to your specialty, you’ll probably get a few feelers.

So… stay in touch.