You’ve heard that old saying that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know? Well, it still applies even in today’s education-driven world. You may not have a college degree, but if you’ve got charm and a good head for names you have something just as powerful: networking skills. Use them to reach the top of your field, even without a diploma.
Street Smarts vs. Book Smarts
Having a strong education does give professionals a leg up in the world. It’s a little easier to impress potential employers if you went to an Ivy League school. But even without a college degree, it is possible to climb the ladder of success all the way to the top.
Case in point: Lionel Rabb. He’s the CEO of Catalyst Group Global, Omicron Technologies and several other Chicago-based businesses. Rabb doesn’t have a college degree, but what he does have has served him well.
Rabb has networking skills. It’s easy to toss aside a job applicant who has applied to a job online with no college degree. But if you know someone who works for the company, you’re no longer someone on a piece of digital paper. Now you’re a real person, and you can get in front of someone at the company to show them what you can do.
Networking Like a CEO
Danielle Morrill knows the power of networking. She’s the entrepreneur and CEO behind Referly. Morrill was famously the first employee at Twilio, a job she dropped out of college to take in 2007. Today, Morrill keeps herself highly visible on her blog and across social media sites. Her company Referly tracks, collects and shares links across the web.
Michael Mothner, CEO of Wpromote, says that networking is about “being out there,” not about what you can gain from it. Use networking to promote your brand and your skills. “Over time, these seeds take root,” he says. Mothner founded a software company at age 14, and built Wpromote while attending college.
Build your network by meeting people across all walks of life and all industries, because you never know when or where opportunity will arise. Do volunteer work. Go to business events and seminars. Introduce yourself to people, and always carry business cards. Even if you have no official job title (or even a job), carry cards with your name and contact information. Include a photograph, website or an original quote to make your card stand out. Remember people, and collect their information.
Whenever possible, return favours and spread opportunities around. Mothner says that “helping others be successful” actually helps you reap “future value.” He suggests taking it one step further by “connecting connectors -- you’ll become a super-connector and a networking maven.”
Megan Duckett, CEO of Sew What, Inc, says that listening makes for good networking. Figure out what other people need. They’ll be “most engaged when your responses and suggestions are relevant to their specific needs.” Duckett was an employee of an event staging company at age 19. Her first job was sewing coffin linings for a Halloween show. Today, she designs stage drapes for the biggest performers in the music industry. She definitely figured out what recording artists need.
Even once you reach the top of that ladder, continue maintaining the business relationships you’ve cultivated and continue networking. Strong career networking can bring you a lot of lucrative options you wouldn’t have found otherwise, and real-world charm and relationships can make up for a lack of education when you don’t have a degree.