The biggest fallacy in business: if I work hard I’ll eventually get to where I want to be.
While hard work and a myriad of other competency-based characteristics are certainly important in growing ones career, they play second fiddle to the #1 most important thing that drives our careers.
Recently I found myself engaged in a discussion I hear all too often:
“I’ve been trying to land a job doing (insert job title) but I’m not getting any responses from my job applications online.”
This was coupled with:
“I’m trying to break into (insert industry) but I have no direct industry experience and am having a hard time with people taking my capabilities serious without industry experience.”
Both of these situations and the people involved are experiencing the same thing – they haven’t built or leaned on the appropriate people to help them with their career quest.
Enter in the #1 career advancement driver: RELATIONSHIPS
The people which make up your professional ecosystem are ultimately the ones who will make the difference in your career, not just hard work.
Back to our scenario above. Applying to jobs on the internet, or the black hole of death as I commonly refer to it, does have its merits, yet by no means are online job boards the best place to land your dream job. Online job boards are built to do one thing and one thing well – weed people like you out. According to Robert Meier, President of Job Market Experts, only 2% of candidates applying for jobs online actually get an interview.
My personal experiences have shown that many people find the online job board process frustrating, cumbersome and verging on a galactic time suck.
If we can’t rely on online job boards, what options do we have? Enter back to the stage our good ole friend ‘Relationships’, our #1 suitor for career advancement.
Your education, hard work and perhaps charm will only take you so far. Relationships, the people above you, below you and your peers, are the ones that stand to make the biggest impact in your career. When we are in school, soon to graduate and looking for our first opportunity, it’s people that give us the chance, not necessarily our stellar academic performance. Our grades may assist in getting us to the conversation however the driver behind making the decision is someone who wants to give you a shot.
Same can be said in corporate America. I remember the first time I was going for a management promotion. My boss at the time told me, “it’s not the people above you that will promote you, it’s your peers and people who report to you.” That really struck home because if my boss were to ask my peers and employees what they thought of me and the response he got was less than stellar the likelihood that feedback would impact my forward progress in my career is likely to be substantial.
When you’re neck deep in your career often times it’s who you know, not what you know. The ‘who you know’ opens doors, ‘what you know’ helps you facilitate the work at hand, not landing the job itself.
What many professionals miss out on is the importance of building lasting professional relationships.
Not every relationship has the capacity to turn into something that is special and will impact your career however if carefully practiced and made a priority it is certainly possible several of your professional relationships overtime can produce fruitful results for both parties involved.
Why is it then people don’t spend more time and energy in building their ecosystem of professional relationships?
Answer: because it isn’t easy nor is it quick in producing results.
Relationships take time and investment. The best relationships have a ‘pay-it-forward’ mentality where both people see the bigger opportunity to help one another without quid pro quo. If you’ve ever read the book ‘Go Giver’ by Bob Burg, it also happens to be my favorite all time book on life and business, you know that relationships and the power of doing for others often times sets the stage for incredible life experience to come. This of course is true in business.
Relationships are hard to foster over long periods of time. It takes trust, consistency and energy. Yet when done genuinely relationships have the power to open doors that may not have been available without it.
If you’re read this and feel like it’s time for you to step up and grow your ecosystem of professional relationships follow these steps to get on the glory road of professional relationships.
1. Understand what your WHY is for building relationships? (most importantly, what can you offer to others in the process?)
2. Identify 2-3 professionals within your circle of influence, take each of them out to coffee for the purpose of building a better, tighter and more collaborative relationship
3. Go to industry networking events
4. Rinse and repeat (a couple in-person meetings or events is only the start; build into your schedule 2-3 times a month where you make it a priority to meet with people)
Last week a friend and I had an interesting conversation over dinner having to do with hiring new grads from college. The two of us agreed that we have seen a rise over recent years with the number of people coming out of college ill-prepared for the working world. But why?
We discussed the disparity that exists with some new grads and their ability to actually put their years of scholastic achievement to work in the real world. Regardless of their GPA many of them struggle and it has employers concerned, especially in the engineering world.
This is where our conversation hit a crucial point and where the rubber meets the road for our recent college graduates: theory versus application.
In academia theory is served up on a silver platter. Students learn by lecture, book and lab. They learn the ideal setting and framework of hundreds of concepts. What they learn is ‘HOW’ something works, where it comes from and should you need to replicate it follow these guidelines, etc. Kind of like a recipe for baking a cake. Follow these instructions and the result will be a nice red velvet cake. My favorite!
Unfortunately what we get a lot of times after the supposed recipe has been followed by new grads is not red velvet cake at all. It’s a pile of crap that doesn’t remotely resemble a cake nor is it edible. Simply being able to follow a recipe, or recite a definition for that matter, does not mean you truly understand the concept which can be a really rude awakening for a newly hired recent graduate in the working world. Our recent engineering grads may be able to tell us the definition of Ohms Law, reciting it verbatim however they struggle to actually use that same theory in practice in the working world when it actually counts.
What academia fails to accomplish is teaching and engraining in its students heads the ‘WHY’ part of the recipe, not just the ‘How’. Learning the ‘WHY’ behind a concept provides us with a larger frame of understanding rather than just surface level information. This articulates the important difference between information and knowledge. (information = theory whereas knowledge = application) When we know why something exists we can better apply said concept to real world settings and or make suitable adjustments when things go array. The ‘WHY’ piece also addresses creativity. When we’re confronted with an issue or challenge in the working world there’s no professor or recipe to help keep us on track. No directions that say ‘substitute this for that if this happens’. One has to be able to draw on their creative juices AND theory to come up with possible solutions.
Why do recent grads struggle with applying their education in the workplace?
My humble opinion falls on two primary contributors:
Don’t worry employers. Fret not new grads, we can fix this challenge so that everyone comes out on top.
How can we change this to help our new grads?
Graduating from college is a great life accomplishment. You’ve worked hard for years and now have the chance to finally put your knowledge to the test along with your wonderful self out there for the professional world to enjoy.
As the college parties and farewells subside new college grads inevitably come face to face with a sobering reality...
...the fact that finding their first career job isn’t easy!Ideally, students should start focusing on their careers and entrance into their industry of choosing in their junior year of college, but more than likely you’ve waited till the very last day of school to think about it. Regardless of the situation you are in as you start to look for work it’s important to head into the process of finding a job armed with the right mental attitude and a winning game plan.
Before you start looking for a new job it’s important to understand how these common new grad thought processes below can hurt your chances of landing a job:
Now that you’ve got a good head on your shoulders and understand a bit more of how the professional workplace functions you’ll need to do the following:
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.