We seem to be living in the heyday of the online job search. With sites like Indeed and LinkedIn providing hundreds or even thousands of relevant job opportunities at your fingertips, it seems obvious that the power of connections must be dwindling. The saying, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” is surely a saying of the past.
Well, it turns out that may not be the truth. It is estimated that between 50% to 80% of hires are made through networking. On top of this, various experts estimate that as many as 70% of all jobs are never listed on job sites like Indeed (Fisher, 2019). For the applicants who do apply on job sites, many have been ghosted by hiring managers. Greenhouse, a job recruitment software company, released an 2023 report surveying employees based in the United States. They found that 67% of respondents reported being ghosted after an interview with a potential employer. Adding insult to injury, historically underrepresented communities reported being ghosted at nearly 25% of a higher rate (Suzuno, 2023). These statistics are very worrisome for those applying to jobs without having connections.
This favoritism for connection-based hiring by employers is not surprising. Psychologically, humans value bonds with others. People tend to trust those who they know over those who they don’t. To demonstrate, let’s say you start selling insurance and you are tasked with cold-calling potential candidates. To get your first customer, are you more likely to call a family member or someone you’ve never met off of a phonebook?
A college degree is not enough to guarantee a job connection either. Julia Freeland Fisher, director of education at the Clayton Christensen Institute, shares a story of a 2018 college graduate who had to watch as her fellow grads got jobs at Facebook and Procter & Gamble. While her classmates had connections from their more affluent backgrounds, Vanessa Mercedes was a first-generation college student whose school offered little to no career support. “I cried at graduation,” Mercedes said, “because I realized that it’s not enough to have a college degree.” She is not alone. It turns out that after obtaining a degree, most cannot find an economically self-sufficient job until they are at least 30. Mercedes on the other hand, joined Basta, a fellowship helping first-generation students of color gain connections in their desired field. These connections helped her get a job at Bloomberg working with an international bank (Fisher, 2023).
Love it or hate it, connection-based hiring is here for the foreseeable future. While college students may see building meaningful connections as an uphill battle, it doesn’t have to be. Most students do not have CEO relatives they can leverage. On the other hand, I would argue that most students have had classes with at least a few professors in their time at college. Professors are not only hired for their teaching ability, they are given their role because of their connections to their industry. Whether they have been in the industry for decades or have just earned their graduate degree and have just started teaching, just about any professor can be a great connection to have. I recommend students start talking more with their professors. Maybe attend their office hours, or bring up an interesting aspect of their lecture after class. These connections over time, could possibly lead to jobs.