Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Anything to do with the traditional world of get a degree, get a job as well as its alternatives
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conwy
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Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by conwy »

There seems to be a commonly-parroted refrain, almost to the point of cliche, that "who you know matters more than what you know".

Popular authors - especially American (but others too) seem to publish endless books on extolling the importance of networking, attending events, etc.

Now I will concede to some small degree. Yes it probably increases employability if you're friendly, personable and sociable. Yes a good number of people do seem to get their jobs through networks and even nepotism. Yes a fair number of internal promotions also happen this way.

On the other hand, going by own experience (admittedly a sample-size of 1), I can count on half a hand the number of jobs I actually got because I knew someone. For almost all my jobs, I either applied directly on a popular job board or I was head-hunted by a recruiter. In nearly every case, the employer seemed to take an initial interest in me mainly because I had the specific skills they wanted and/or was the generally the right fit for the role. It doesn't seem that networks or "old boys clubs" played any kind of role.

I actually found the skill-based way to be the easier way. It meant that I could travel to a different city and even country (London) and still be employable. It also meant that there were always clear ways to measure my progress - i.e. how well have you mastered skill "X", vs. how much does a connection really like you and want to work with you and how much power do they have to hire you?

For someone in early retirement there's an added financial dimension. I would prefer diversified and predictable sources of income (i.e. being employable in a large anonymous job market) over risky and unpredictable sources of income (i.e. depending heavily on a few particular connections who may or may not be able to guarantee me work).

How about you? Does skill or network take priority? Or do you pursue some blend of both?

AxelHeyst
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by AxelHeyst »

I don’t think about skills and who I know in terms of employability. If all goes well I’ll never be an employee again. I care about access to interesting projects and people. I’m still figuring out what ratio of solo projects vs projects/activities with people suits my personality and strengths best. At the moment I’m in a very solo mode, but I think of this phase as groundwork for future access to even more interesting projects with interesting people. I’m building a foundation that will lead to me ‘deserving’ (in the way Jacob uses it in The Book) even more interesting people, projects, experiences, etc.

A key concept for me is usefulness. I build skills to be useful in interesting ways for interesting people on interesting projects. For very broad interpretations of interesting, useful, and projects.

Knowing the right people won’t help much if I’m useless. Being useful won’t lead to the sort of rich and interesting projects I want if I don’t get out there and know some people. So, yes, both…. to echo somewhat what you said, I think skills come first/are the foundation.

(And if I’m a useful and skilled person who knows interesting people and spends his time on neat projects then money will never be a problem.)

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Ego
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Ego »

We have probably all encountered a person who relied almost entirely on who they knew to get ahead. It is not a good way to navigate the world. Generally, but not always, it ends badly because the person failed at something that was easily measurable and attributable. They were unable to shift blame and paid the price.

The same is true the other way around. Relying entirely on what you know will take you only so far. It limits the person to menu options and when things get tough, menu options diminish. Some important skills are very difficult or impossible to measure. The value of relationships is hard to quantify. Opportunities that were not on the menu just suddenly appear. When things get tough, off menu options are far more important.

It is right to criticize the "who you know" mentality, but don't ignore it. Do both.

ETA, in early retirement the menu disappears. Or maybe a map is a better metaphor. Either way, navigating the world without a menu or map can be extremely challenging. It is a good skill to practice.

delay
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by delay »

conwy wrote:
Sat Feb 10, 2024 9:19 pm
How about you? Does skill or network take priority? Or do you pursue some blend of both?
So far, after a reorganization, I've always looked for jobs on the open market. Looking up jobs on online job boards and applying for them by email.

It's an interesting question! I imagine that in a stagnant economy jobs are sought after resources. Bosses will reserve them for their friends and family. For example, I hear that in Spain it is very hard to find a job as an outsider. In a growing economy friends and family are provided for and bosses are open to inviting strangers into the work force. In The Netherlands, where I live, there is lots of room to take in new people.

Or perhaps the causal relationship is the other way around? Hiring strangers into your group might result in economic growth.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Well, my recent perusal of my Social Security Earnings record* has once again verified that I am a human who apparently avoids paid employment by other, or even highly lucrative employment by self, like the plague, so the means by which I occasionally drift or jump into employment may be somewhat revelatory.

Since I was raised in upper-middle-middle-class society centered on the Modern, from earliest age I have understood that I "should" seek to have a career. I would estimate that my peak desire to fulfill this goal was achieved around age 13/14, during a phase in which I believed the centerfolds in Glamour magazine (usually featuring a model dressed in a stylish business suit and heels, simultaneously talking on the phone, balancing an extremely cute stylishly dressed baby on her hip, and smiling at her model husband attired in stylish rugged casual as he supportively pours some orange juice into stylish glasses on the stylish counter of their stylish kitchen) represented the ideal lifestyle. Not coincidentally, this era (the 80s) also saw the invention/promotion of the term "networking" by the Boomers. This activity, as it was originally imagined, has become almost entirely archaic in the age of the internet, in which approximately 1/3 of humans hold life goal of being a constantly on display "influencer", approximately 1/3 are enraged/paranoid about invasion of privacy as they continue to post in public, and the rest of us are wandering about like second cousins looking for a bathroom at the venue of a large wedding.

Anyways, it has been my experience, that even if you are not actively seeking employment, it will often find you through your social network almost by osmosis. If you have any level of skills or basic competencies, just telling maybe two humans in your circle that you might be seeking employment is akin to a Rogue Bachelor of the Leisure Class in the Regency Era offering any hint that he may be seeking a wife. Humans want/need other humans to be trapped in the same manner they find themselves trapped, because the alternative is less than validating of their choices and also humming with cognitive dissonance.

OTOH, any time I've decided or been forced-by-natural-consequences-of-slacker-behavior to jump into a new job through internet means, such as Indeed, I've found that getting interviews is about as easy as getting dates through online dating sites/apps, and getting a new Job/BF rarely takes more than a few weeks, EVEN though my employment history is quite odd, weak and intermittent. Of course, HUGE caveat here being that because I generally only job-seek/date with shortish term goals in mind, my standards have varied from those seeking dream job/dream date or job-optimized-for XYZ, partner optimized for XYZ.


*Less than $300,000 since my first "on the books" job scooping ice cream in 1982! I am wondering if it is just coincidence that this almost exactly appromimates 1 Jacob/year? It might be the case that anybody whose primary (even if only semi-conscious) ambition is like unto maximization of reading time will sink/rise to this level of earning/spending? Perhaps my recently acquired data science skills could be applied to this question? :geek:

Jin+Guice
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Jin+Guice »

The initial question assumes that the ultimate purpose of building skills/ "networking*" is to find a job to earn money. This views resources through the financial lens.

*I am allergic to "networking," which paradoxically makes me the "networking" master.

With skills and a strong social network, one can bypass the need for money almost entirely.

I think it is impossible to be at 0 in terms of skills or social network. These two variables will also interact. In terms of resources, broadly defined, the interaction variable will be the dominating variable.

Financial resources extend your social network to people you will never know and your skills network to things you could never learn on your own/ tools you can't build.

7Wannabe5
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by 7Wannabe5 »

Jin + Guice wrote: In terms of resources, broadly defined, the interaction variable will be the dominating variable.
Strongly agree.
Financial resources extend your social network to people you will never know and your skills network to things you could never learn on your own/ tools you can't build.
I'm not sure I follow. For example, do you mean Taylor Swift and Large Hadron Collider? I would argue that some rough mix of Intellectual and Erotic Capital would actually provide readier access than Financial Capital to such people and tools.

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Jean
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Jean »

i complettly neglected networking, and never got a job that used my skillset.
Otoh, i got some job in area where i have no particular skills, only because of my natural network.

I think you might be classifying a work experience in a a.company as a skill, but it's more valuable as a part of your network.

guitarplayer
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by guitarplayer »

I think it is a good general skill to be able to integrate oneself into a network. Anticipating a potential point, I also think this does not have to involve any personal compromises from a standpoint of morals or anything like this.

If having skills pertinent to a job is one and knowing people through which one can get a job is two, then having both is best for getting oneself in a good situation of doing good work amongst people one gets along with well. Second best is having skills and no 'connections' and purely participating in labour market. When having network rather than skill to get you a job, there is still an option of acquiring skills on the job and perhaps quite a few people are in this situation in the early days of their working life; worse so if they decide to just never acquire the skills necessary and rely only on knowing somebody. Lastly you have no network and no skills which is vulnerable position to be in, but still I think most people have potential to turn this around.

Jin+Guice
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Jin+Guice »

7Wannabe5 wrote:
Sun Feb 11, 2024 1:52 pm
"Financial resources extend your social network to people you will never know and your skills network to things you could never learn on your own/ tools you can't build."


I'm not sure I follow.


I don't mean money is better. I mean that if you view money as a form of social capital (rather than social capital as a means to money) it extends your social network to people you'll never meet. If you view money as a form of personal (skills) capital (rather than skills as a means to money) then it extends your skillset through tools and training.






I disagree that skills are default better than a social network. Plenty of low skill individuals get a job through a connection, acquire some minimum skills and work their way up through "networking." Since it's pretty much impossible to define what "no skills" or "no social network" would mean, I don't see how having "none" of either can be compared. I don't think it can be declared that either is better.

AxelHeyst
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by AxelHeyst »

From James Clear's email today:
James Clear wrote:"Who knows you is more important than who you know. Build a brand."
I guess he hasn't gotten the memo that "be a brand' is cringe now, but I thought the first sentence was at least somewhat relevant to this thread.

"Who you know" implies you go around asking people for favors and opportunities when you need them.
"Who knows you" implies other people come to you with opportunities when they have them... and you can yes/no/maybe as you like.

Frita
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Frita »

AxelHeyst wrote:
Thu Feb 15, 2024 2:25 pm
What ever happened to Steven Covey’s concept of win-win? The older I get, the more anaphylactic I am to these dichotomous paradigms.

bostonimproper
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by bostonimproper »

I broke into product based on my network (some professor I had worked with’s PhD advisor was hiring for his startup). Otherwise nobody was taking a chance on me. So at least in my case I found networking really can help with career pivots.

Most jobs I’ve had though I applied from job boards. I do think a lot of them saw a prestigious undergrad and big companies on my resume and hired me based on being associated with well known institutions. I consider that sort of credential based social capital a soft form of networking.

Western Red Cedar
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Western Red Cedar »

I suspect one's field/industry might influence the role of skills and networks in terms of job prospects and opportunities. After getting my master's degree, I realized the importance of professional networks in opening doors. My graduate advisor specifically tapped into his network to help me land my first job because he knew I had a strong work ethic and would excel in my field. He knew I wouldn't harm his credibility with a recommendation.

My supervisors at my next two jobs both knew previous professors or colleagues which likely helped a lot in terms of landing those jobs.

Ultimately, the network helped but it was my underlying work and track record that was the strong selling point. A network doesn't do much in a technical/skills-based interview.

+1 to @ego's suggestion - do/use both.

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Sclass
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Re: Skill-based vs network-based work sourcing

Post by Sclass »

Yeah do both. Survival requires a mix. I like to break down my modern reality by looking back at feudal and primitive society. You need all types to get by. Tech has made it a lot easier to get by with less social grease. Things my dad used social connections for I simply use some app or sw that I bought using proceeds of my skills based businesses. But I think it’s a sliding scale depending on what you’re trying to do and who you are.

That being said I think non skills people can extend themselves more into the skills area by using automated tools that were once the domain of nerds. The computer has been a big game changer.

While working I was passed up for an engineering VP position when the board just hired some guy they knew to be my boss. The guy over the next year hired a bunch of his old friends to be managers below him. They were skills weak but people people. Eventually they moved on to work in other orgs where they had connections. They seemed to move less than every five years. I used to see their titles on LinkedIn and wonder how they could even do those jobs when they didn’t understand the tech. I think the answer was they just moved on to another friend’s business.

I watched the company hire more engineering VPs over the next decade. They all had one thing in common. They had been managers at the boards/investors other failed businesses. They had fancy degrees and all the right paperwork but they all seemed to have this history of working at failed startups owned by our VCs. We had a lot of that.

That may sound awful but it depends on what you really want out of all this. Those guys lived in nice homes in Silicon Valley. They ate. They had paychecks coming in. Not bad by many metrics.

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