What You Know Versus Who You Know

As generation X before us, and the baby boomers before them, millennials approach life, love, and the pursuit of happiness with a unique mindset different than those before us. This series will serve as a platform to delve into how millennials apply these mindsets from childhood, to college, and ultimately, to the corporate world.


“It’s not about money or connections. It’s about the willingness to outwork and outlearn everyone else.”                – Mark Cuban


“It’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” A classically over-emphasized allegory of the millennial generation, this saying has become like nails on a chalkboard to me in my early 20s.

The general idea to take away from this maxim is that while being book smart is important, it doesn’t really matter as long as you have friends who can help get you through the golden French doors of connections and up the spiraling staircase to success. This idle outlook begs the question: why spend any time at all learning about your desired field, industry, or line of business if all that matters is your connections?


As with most bits of colloquial wisdom, what is not mentioned is just as significant as what is. The inverse truth to this turn of phrase is simple. While having family, friends, and an extensive network of involvement may not hurt you in your job search, what can and will hurt you is a lack of aptitude. Much like applying to college, employers are looking for knowledgeable, dynamic leaders who show the potential to grow.

Most commonly, and unfortunately, this insinuates that resting on your laurels and relying solely on who you know is a key to upward mobility within your field. One of my first mentors consistently used (and possibly abused) the phrase “complacency kills.” Simply relying on others for your success is an easy route to disaster. By counting on the merits and connections of others, you drop poison in your own cocktail, so to speak.

Even if this thinking is successful in obtaining a job, if you have no skill or dedication beyond your social and corporate networking, your employer and colleagues will quickly realize the mistake they’ve made.

The most important thing you can do to prepare for your first year of corporate employment is maintain a basic understanding of the field you’re entering. A certain base knowledge is required for all entry-level positions, anything in addition to that is simply a bonus. It’s not necessary to be an expert in every area; the desire to immerse yourself like a sponge into your desired field will take you much farther.


Essentially, if there is one thing we have all learned from our college to corporate transition, it’s that college certainly does not teach you much of what you need to know for your job.

Completing years of higher education is about the dedication and character-building; it simply provides confirmation that you have the ability to learn, adapt, develop, and mature at the highest level with time. Certainly, who you know may assist in scoring an ambitious interview, and the soft skills may land you the job, but you’re certain to move out and not up if you do not have the ability to adapt and self-educate.

Your first year in the corporate world often feels like an episode of MacGyver: you’re put in an impossible predicament you couldn’t possibly solve, with only a few tools to facilitate your escape. Without a poignant knowledge of how to use the tools in your arsenal, you stand no shot of getting out before the bomb goes off.

To the millennial, complacency is the enemy of success. If you put your future in the hands of who you know, rather than your own capabilities, you’re building the castle of your career on very weak foundations. Relationships can come and go, but adaptability and dedication will always be the lighthouse built on solid ground.

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