Susan Riley | June 2013

Why Landing a Job is about Who You (Don’t) Know

Have you ever felt like you’re at a disadvantage when applying for a new position because you don’t have the connections to get your foot in the door?  I think at some point, we’ve all had that experience.  Someone else got the position because they were part of the “good old boys” network or knew how to play the political game.  It feels rotten because it makes it seem like we’re helpless.

It also provides us with a good excuse.

No longer is losing out on a job about lack of qualifications or not being the best candidate; instead, we lost that opportunity because we didn’t have a special inside connection.  Or someone else internally had put in their dues, stuck around for 20 years and thereby totally outranked us for that position.  I don’t think so.

Landing a job you crave is about competency, personalized networking and good people skills.  I’ve sat on many interview panels, as well as interviewed for plenty of positions.  And from both sides of the table, I can assure you that if you master those three components, the job is yours.


Are you a master in your subject matter?  Do you own that material?  The first step to getting any position is in being the most competent individual for that area.  That includes being well-versed in the people who are currently making waves in your area.  Who have you studied with or researched?  Who are the leaders in this field?  You may not know them personally, but if you don’t know who they are, you’ll get docked points.

Personalized Networking.

This is where the “who’s who” game gets played.  And while it never hurts to know a lot of people, it’s far better to know the right people.  The right people are those individuals that are meaningful to you AND to your field of expertise.  The right people may not be movers and shakers everywhere, but instead could be the movers and shakers in this job circle.

Think about it:

If I’m applying for a position with a school district as a teacher and I know Lindsay Lohan, does that really matter?  Could that even possibly hurt my chances given her track record and my desire to be a public servant?  It would be far better to know the district’s current or immediately previous teacher of the year, whom would garner much more respect in this situation.  Make your networking count.  It’s like friendships as you age: it’s about quality, not quantity.

What if you don’t know the right people who could get your foot in the door?  Then it’s time to start making some connections!  Take stock of who you don’t know but who you would be interested in building a relationship with (and not just for the job’s sake – that’s just tacky – but because you’re truly intrigued) and then reach out.  Connect via LinkedIn and introduce yourself through the messaging system.  Attend a conference.  Ask a friend to introduce you.  Build your personal network by turning who you don’t know into a good support system that you admire and respect.

Good People Skills.

This one should be a softball at the interview table, but I am always surprised by how often people miss this crucial step.  You need to be able to read the room and adjust your approach to questions accordingly.  Be pleasant and confident, but not pushy.  Prior to walking in the room, think about the qualities of a person you would most like to work with and keep this vision in your mind as the panel asks you questions.  More often than not, I have seen decisions be made based on whether the person would be a good fit in the organization and if they can work well with the other people on the team.

So, do your homework if possible and get to know the team.  Research the individuals in an organization on their website and view their profiles.  Be prepared to ask them questions about their current projects and how you could support them in this position.  Get them to visualize YOU sitting in that chair.

While you can’t control who an interview panel picks for their job candidate, you can control the artistry by which you approach the interview.  Just like being on a stage, you need to imagine that you’re already in the role and bring your unique character to it.  You don’t have to succumb to the defeated mentality – build your network and land that job!

Sound off: What are some interview tips that you can share that have proven successful over time?

About the Author

Susan Riley is the founder and CEO of The Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM. She focuses on teacher professional development in arts integration, STEAM, 21st century learning skills, and technology. She is also a published author and frequent presenter at national conferences on Arts Integration and STEAM education. Susan holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Music Education from the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ and a Master of Science in Education Administration from McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. She lives in Westminster, MD with her husband and daughter. Email Susan