Common Career Wisdom That isn’t All That Wise

As long as we’re giving networking tips, here are a few other things you need to know. Well, “not know,” actually. Erase these Old Wives Tales and proceed onward to career victory!

futureseerby Herbert Lui

Finding your first “real” job can be anxiety-inducing, stressful, and extremely confusing. A lot of classic advice isn’t exactly concrete truth, though, even though the principle might be right. Here’s some career wisdom you should consider revisiting.

Advice: “It’s Not What You Know, It’s Who You Know.”

The idea is to make sure you develop your professional network along with your knowledge and skills, so you have a better shot at getting a job as you enter the workforce. For a lot of people people, this phrase can sound discouraging. In high school and the earlier years of college, most of my friends got their first jobs with their relatives and family. I didn’t have any family members or friends that owned businesses or in the same field as me, so my hands were tied. If you don’t already know anyone, this advice can cause you to focus your efforts strictly on networking.

This phrase also discounts the importance of “what you know”, which is becoming increasingly important. A lot of people are charlatans. They talk a lot, but they don’t know what they’re saying. They might be able to lock a job down, but they won’t be able to hang on to it or advance in it.

Networking is important, but people have to be able to trust you. What you know will help make that happen.

Revision #1: “Who you know may get you the job, what you know helps you keep it.”

Unless you’re in sales, only “what you know” can directly create value. If you’re in construction, you have to actually build things. If you’re in accounting, you have to know what to do when the books don’t balance. People will recognize your skill and they will value you. Who you know is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you get a job, what you know will either propel you forward or cause you to flounder.

Revision #2: “What you know will bring you to who you need to know.”

This advice was first suggested to me by A$AP co-manager Geno Sims, and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It is so true. A lot of people mindlessly network at the same information sessions and networking events, trying to improve their network. For the most part, this isn’t an effective use of time.

When you demonstrate what you know to the people you already know, they’re likely to introduce you to other people that might need your help. Everyone wants to help each other. For example, let’s say you helped a family friend put together their website. If someone says to them, “Do you know anyone I could hire to spruce my website up?” they’ll want to recommend you. Who you know helped, but it’s what you know that matters to people—and they won’t recommend you if they don’t respect your skills. You become more than just another job seeker or student. If you don’t share what you know, other people can’t safely recommend you even if they wanted to, and you won’t get the results you wanted.

Advice: “Don’t Give Away Free Work, It Devalues It.”

A lot of people will advise against you giving free work. This could be because you’re skilled enough to get paid, and you’re also dragging down market rates (which affect them). By far, the most important thing that has contributed to my career has been free work. I originally got the idea from author and book marketer Charlie Hoehn’s Recession-Proof Graduate, but folks like freelance designer Paul Jarvis has also recommended starting freelancing for free.