The Reality of “Whom You Know” and the Appropriate Response

The writer, Jeremiah Buabeng
The writer, Jeremiah Buabeng

Growing up as a zealous motivational speaker, I was very perturbed about the issue of “whom you know.” For the benefit of my global audience let me put up a definition for “whom you know” before I ride along.

The term is a local parlance for the belief that one cannot make progress on the career or business ladder regardless of their education, training or experience unless they know someone at the top of the food chain who can facilitate that. My discomfort with it lay largely in the fact it, if indeed it was true, it discouraged personal development and the need to continually strive for excellence or so I thought.

I was passionately inspiring people to improve themselves, expand their knowledge-base, enhance their skills sets and be great at what they did. But if all that didn’t matter in their career progression if they didn’t “know someone” then what was the point in making all that effort? If ultimately the only way to get a job, a contract, sponsorship or opportunity of any kind is to have a connection to a person of prominence somewhere in the organization then why should anyone pay the price of personal development?

So with all these thoughts going through my head vis-à-vis my own passion to inspire people for personal growth, I aggressively argued against “whom you know”. I insisted that it didn’t exist, that serious companies and organizations don’t promote or give opportunities to people that way. I felt compelled to do that because if I did accept it to be true then there would be no point in challenging people to excel, I erroneously thought.

Now, several years after, as I keep climbing my own ladder of success, I have realized that there is some truth in the “gospel of whom you know” but with an added twist that its preachers do not seem to realize. After a decade of working my own gift and developing other ancillary ideas or projects, I have discovered that “whom you know” is real. It is a reality that you cannot make your way to the top if you don’t deliberately build relationships and network with people who matter. And it is not just a Ghanaian thing. It is a worldwide phenomenon. And it is not negative when done well and honestly.

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All of over the world, people are more inclined to give opportunities or support to people they have a previous relationship with than those they don’t. In the business world, getting opportunities through referrals and recommendations is an important rule in the game. People recommend business to people they know. However, whereas there are some cases of such doors being opened for people who don’t merit it, most of the time they are given to people who have the right background or expertise but who have the added advantage of “knowing someone” who could vouch for them.

That sounds unfair right? Well, life is not fair. It may be dark, yellow or any other colour but fair isn’t one of them. Grumbling and protesting about the unfairness of it is an unproductive use of time and energy. It is not the appropriate response. If this is the reality, what must be the appropriate response of every person of ambition? How must a budding entrepreneur, young professional, graduate or student who wants to make their way in the world and achieve greatness respond to this?

Embrace It.

Embrace the fact that in business or many other fields, having strategic connections is crucial to building your business or deploying your gift or talent. It is possible to be gifted, well-trained or competent and not have opportunity to perform because you lack relevant relationships. Permit me to throw away in my bid make an important illustration.

I’m a great speaker, so my audience say. When the Motivational Speakers Network did a poll recently, I was privileged to be named Ghana’s No.1 Young Speaker. That surely says something about how good I am at what I do. However, being good at what I do has not been singularly responsible for my success as a speaker. There are great platforms I have been privileged to speak on that I didn’t get merely because I was good. I got them because I had a relationship with someone in the organization who knew I was good and therefore made a referral that got me the job.


Being good at what you do is not enough. You must deliberately build social capital. You must network with people who can vouch for you and recommend you for opportunities. “Whom you know” is real but not in the way that people think it is. Knowing people doesn’t mean that you will get opportunities or promotion even if you are shoddy, mediocre and lackluster in your performance. Certainly not. What it does mean is that networking with the right people ensures that you have people who will recommend or make referrals to you so you can receive an opportunity that you are prepared for.

In order to rise in your field of endeavor, you must deliberately network with relevant people. Don’t be satisfied with merely being gifted. Don’t settle just because you have a great idea and you expect people to beat a path to your door. It’s not enough to be excellent. Be connected, too. Network with the right people!

Change Your Posture

The reality of “whom you know” means that you need to change your posture towards life. There are people who sit in a class or lecture hall for years but never network with anyone besides their lecture notes. They are intelligent, ambitious but naïve. They are under the illusion that getting good grades alone is not enough to guarantee them success in the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am persuaded that the quality of relationships you build in life is more important than the quality of certificate you get from school. You can have a great degree but live a small life because you don’t have the strategic connections needed to promote your dreams. In school, don’t focus on your notes alone, make friends. Do deliberate networking even with the poor students you don’t respect. Whether your mate is poor academically or financially, network with them. Some of those students end up becoming major game changers in the world.

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It also means that if you have been running from church right after the preacher says the benediction, you must put a stop to it. Don’t close from church and scurry away with your Bible right after service. Stay around for a few minutes. Say hello to someone. Make a friend. Get to know people. Deliberately network with people who have the power and means to help you move up the corporate ladder or in the business world. If you attend a seminar, don’t just walk away after the session. Network with people. Wherever you find yourself, make a connection. Don’t walk through your neighborhood without greeting people you meet. That man you have been passing by every day without so much as a hello could be the CEO of the company, you are looking for a job with. Every day you walk past the door to your promotion without knowing it. Being nice pays.

However, starting a relationship is not enough. When you make a connection to a network, you must cultivate it. Call regularly to say hello. Find out what they are doing and offer support. Show an interest in the things that matter to them; their special events, birthdays, weddings, bereavement, book launches etc. By constantly connecting and offering support, you engrave your name on their minds and position yourself to be remembered on the day of opportunity. “Whom you know” is real and you can leverage it to your advantage.

The writer, Jeremiah Buabeng, is a motivational speaker, author and corporate trainer. You can read more of his writings from or contact him at [email protected]/ +233 246 88 26 32.

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