Career Advice Jun 26 2012

It's Not What You Know, It's Who You Know

By Kelly Eggers

Step away from your desk and quit trying so hard to be the best at your job.

According to a new survey from Right Management, the talent management and outplacement arm of ManpowerGroup, most employees believe job performance isn't the leading factor in career success.

The survey of 516 employees in North America found that 44% believe that it's who you know that matters most when it comes to getting ahead in your organization. That's compared with 39% who believe success is pegged to performance on the job and 4% who said it has to do with your tenure in a current role.

Margaret-Ann Cole, the regional vice president of career management with Right Management, finds the results worrisome, considering the weight many companies place on productivity and hiring the best talent. "I do not believe this is true," she said. "I don't think it's as factual as it is anecdotal and perceptual. It's what they are feeling more than what's actually happening."

Managers should be more concerned with the survey results that said 13% of workers don't know what it takes to get ahead in their organization because it's not made clear to them what's required to succeed, she said. "People at the top levels of an organization need to really communicate, communicate and communicate again," Cole said. "They need to do it multiple times through multiple channels, otherwise it's diluted and people feel disconnected from the message."

By not articulating the organization's vision or goals, and not encouraging employees to develop their internal networks, staff become disengaged. That contributes to employee turnover, Cole said.

"Individuals need to take ownership of their career development, and each organization needs to provide the tools and resources for each individual to do that," Cole said. Have an honest conversation with your manager about your strengths, which tend to be where your interests and expertise meld together. Focus your attention there if it's relevant.

If what's necessary to advance doesn't interest you, Cole said employees should consider a lateral move or career change. "Frankly, sometimes the skills that you have may no longer be a skill set the organization is evolving into," Cole said. "If you think, 'I don't want to evolve my skills into something else, I want to find an organization where I can use my skill set as it already exists,'" then you should consider a different division of your company, or a new company.

There's no harm, however, in having an established, reliable professional network. People can spend a decade cultivating a relationship that leads to a new position, which is why it's important to lay the groundwork for "who you know" early on in your career.

Write to Kelly Eggers at kelly.eggers@dowjones.com




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