Connections: The Importance of Making Contacts

Career. You hear the word at almost every point in your life. You are asked what you want to be when you grow up, you consider your future career when you choose your GCSE subjects, your A Levels and then later when you select your degree course. Each step along the way possible future careers are eliminated. After all, without A-Level biology it’s pretty unlikely you’ll ever become a ground-breaking surgeon and if you never studied any foreign languages then a career as an interpreter may not be in your remit. Even once you have finished all your studies and finally settled on your dream job the path to get it can be a complete nightmare.

This was confirmed when I met with a group of friends over coffee and chatted about where we were hoping to head with our lives. I spoke of my own desire to find an internship or gain more work experience in journalism. One of my friends talked of wanting to eventually work in fashion buying and merchandising and another opened up about the pitfalls of being on a graduate scheme. In all cases we discussed the extraordinary level of competition for positions amongst graduates. Naturally the conversation moved towards what our peers had done in our time since leaving university and it became apparent that those who were progressing the fastest were those who had connections – a parent, a family friend in their chosen field. The question hung in the air, but we were reluctant to ask it.

“Is the only way to get ahead in your chosen field if you know the right people?”

It certainly seemed that way, a roll call of some of my fellow students included sons and daughters of some pretty influential people, captains of Industry, giants of the media, even some millionaires. Many of them have already gone onto internships, grad schemes or careers in well-known corporations. I asked a few of them, and many were happy to admit that without their contacts they’d have found it harder, or certainly a lot slower to get off the mark. We’ve heard the phrase a million times before, “It’s not what you know, but who you know”. But if this is true then the reality is that those who have grown up less privileged and around less influential people will always have less access to opportunity, therefore finding it harder to ever progress in the way they may hope.

I posed the question on Twitter. Many agreed. “It’s tricky to get anywhere without a contact to show you the way in” was one reply. Another responded “Knowing people where you want to be can make things a lot easier”. My heart sank. Was I destined to fail because I didn’t know anyone writing professionally? But then another response caught my eye “If ‘what you know’ includes knowing that you have to start from the bottom if you don’t have the contacts, you’ll get along just fine.” Perhaps herein lies the problem, we want everything right now. A contact may be a quicker way in but for most it’s a luxury and by no means a guarantee of a shining career. In reality if you want to succeed you have to be willing to work and hard. Steve Jobs, J.K Rowling and Oprah Winfrey all came from humble beginnings but have achieved outstanding success. For those without contacts the road may be a little longer, a little more winding, yes, but if you want something enough, then its more than achievable.

Unless you want to be the Queen…I hear that runs in the family.

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