The other day I was telling someone that I have rarely had any formal interviews. On most occasions people have recommended me and the interviews were only a formality. Instead of getting impressed she gave me a strange look.
"I have always been selected based on my qualifications", she said.
It took me a few seconds to understand what she meant. She had mistaken my networking skills for a silver spoon. She assumed I got something I didn't deserve. Or worse - I took the job away from a more deserving candidate.
I wanted to say- "Really?", but ended up saying "Good for you!".
She was quick to recover and say - "No, I am sure you were qualified as well.. bla bla bla"
It was a reflex reaction. She didn't like the concept of knowing "someone" and leveraging the relationship to attain something. To be honest - I am not actually what you would call a "well connected person". I come from a middle-class family raised by extremely hard working parents. "Well connected" is not a phrase you associate with me by any stretch of imagination.
Whatever few times I have been referred for assignments or sales meetings or projects... it has been a result of research, 1000s of hours on Wikipedia/podcasts/YouTube/ Documentaries each year... maintaining lists of people/countries/artists/games/economies ... and what not on diaries, notepads, Google docs, blogging apps on my tablet... you get the picture.
Collecting degrees and experience doesn't require any special effort. Everybody does that. Stand in a line and keep following instructions. Some day or another you will figure out what you are doing and will be called an expert. I did an MBA in finance, got certifications in capital markets, helped different teams to develop trading applications and 7 years later - I know my way around. Special? Some people tend to think so. I don't. I think you should know your stuff. That's a requirement. A "minimum qualification", if you ask me.
What gives me a kick though, is a conversation around capital markets (or economics or technical trends or...). That I truly enjoy, just as I love talking about movies or music or sports or startups ... That has not come from my desk job or "qualifications". It has come from outside the box. This helps me to hold interesting conversations with people and explore things beyond the document or presentation... The more the data, the more the basis for trust. And I think that's how people recommend each other - by winning trust.
Imagine the number of people we meet in a year. Its actually quite a lot, irrespective of industry or profession. Instead of holding forgettable conversations, I'd rather talk about something intriguing. Even better if it happens to be around the product/service in question, or other such offerings in other countries. Something unique to remember each other by.
Should I be ashamed of occupying a 'favorable mind-space' in the people I meet? Is it unfair for the people who lose out because they are not recommended? You decide. Here is where I stand: I don't like to hide behind the word "deserve". It's a free world and everything is up for grabs. And as I mentioned in one of my earlier posts - no one deserves anything.