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It’s not what you know, but who you know?

When someone is looking for a new job, how relevant is the adage that “It’s not what you know, but who you know” in the twenty first century FM sector?

CJ_Howden-polaroid_NEWTHE HR VIEW
C-J GREEN,
GROUP HR DIRECTOR, SERVEST GROUP

Having connections can undoubtedly help; the FM industry is incestuous and people tend to move around, so having contacts can help people get their foot in the door. And personal recommendations tend to carry a lot of weight.

I have not had any help from others in terms of progressing in my career. Though, I have, and do, turn to my network for support to help me maximise my professional and personal potential. I highly recommend surrounding yourself with a network of inspiring people, inside and outside of your business, who are passionate about the things that you’re passionate about. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious and it helps to bring out the best in you. 

At Servest and in HR in general, we like recommendations, as the people who are recommended to us tend to be a good cultural fit. Some of Servest’s most valuable people have been recommended to us. Also, from an HR perspective, there aren’t quite as many stages to go through in the recruitment process compared with placing an advert or going through an agency, ultimately reducing the time it takes to find your new recruit.

You do have to be careful when recruiting people by recommendation; people tend to recommend and recruit people who have the same persona as themselves. You don’t always want to be recruiting the same type of person; diversity is the key to a successful team. 

From past experiences, I want and need people on my team who have complimentary skills. I’m not massively process-oriented, so if I recruited people just like me, I’d have no one on my team who could dive into the detail and manage the strong processes that we need in this business. When I’m recruiting, I’m conscious of where the gaps are and the type of person who can fill them; sometimes that person comes to us as a recommendation and sometimes they come to us as an unknown.

Regardless of whether someone gets through the door by recommendation or by a full recruitment process, they then have to step up to the plate. They have to know their stuff, and if they don’t, they’ll be found out. Who you know will only get you so far, in the end, what you know and what you are capable of, is far more important.   

polaroid-Guy-Stallard-KPMG-FMJTHE END-USER’S VIEW
GUY STALLARD,
CHAIRMAN, FMA USER GROUP AND THE UK HEAD OF FACILITIES AT KPMG 

I suspect the thought that “It’s not what you know, but who you know?” still exists in FM arises because there are a few senior individuals who have moved between organisations. However, this is a fallacy as recruitment and hiring processes for most large organisations have become significantly more rigorous in recent years; policies will dictate how a post is advertised, competencies and qualifications required, interview processes, due diligence background checks, and generally how employment offers are made. These policies help reduce the likelihood of the route to jobs being ‘who you know’. Likewise internet jobs boards and company websites advertising posts have helped to bring some of the ‘hidden job market’ into the open. The ability to search for jobs is a great leveller as previously people might have had no way of knowing a role was even available. This accessibility also means that people in competitor organisations are now aware of opportunities without having to indicate any interest in changing roles to a head hunter.

The issue of ‘it’s who you know’ really highlights the issue of social mobility and opening up access to professions, a hot topic for business today. This is a challenging issue in particular for professions where a degree or post-graduate professional qualification is required, such as law or accountancy. As a result a growing number of organisations are offering apprenticeships so that young people who might not otherwise go to university have a route to access the profession. However, we are fortunate in FM that apprenticeships have long been access routes for encouraging new talent into the sector, allowing people to train and gain qualifications on the job. Moreover, the FM sector is one which has traditionally been fairly open to entry from a wide range of backgrounds, as there are a large range of jobs within FM which do not require degrees or post-graduate qualifications. Many senior FMs started in entry level posts and worked their way up to leadership roles through gaining skills and building experience over the years.

All these opportunities and policies to widen participation and get the best individuals for the job are a good thing, and shouldn’t stop people from networking to get to know others within the sector. It is still appropriate to grow networks with peers within the sector, not solely with the aim of looking for the next job, but also to share knowledge and build relationships. Joining professional networking groups, making an effort to meet people at events, conferences or trade shows are still positive things to do. In addition to having the right skills and experience for a prospective role, many individuals will also find it useful to build their profile within FM – which is always a positive thing to do. 

About Sarah OBeirne

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