During an internship at Ernst & Young, a second at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the subsequent work I have done with St Andrews Charity Fashion Show (‘FS’) this summer, I have been challenged by the phrase ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.’
As an Australian-born, who hasn’t lived in one place consecutively for more than five years, I felt like a fish out of water in all three of these situations. Particularly with FS, I felt an overwhelming fear of looming failure: there was no way that I could even equal, let alone exceed, the work of those done before me.
I certainly didn’t ‘know’ anyone of importance in any of these fields; I got through interviews, assessment centres and psychometric tests, holding firmly to the knowledge that my (somewhat limited) time in St Andrews tutorials had given me. As well as relying on a hefty serving of luck. But, as the impending days of the nine-to-five approached, I must admit I was fearful. Networking made my skin crawl and there seemed little value in reversing that well known phrase to hope that ‘it’s not who you know, it’s what you know.’ In the early days I quickly learned that the expectation of knowledge was high and, unfortunately, knowledge was something that I certainly didn’t have much of (particularly in comparison to those around me!).
Whilst I gained knowledge specific to each venture the most important thing I learned this summer is that it is all about asking questions.
The last 12 weeks have shown that success is certainly not reliant on the ‘what’ or the ‘who’ – it is simply the ‘balls’ (for want of a better expression) to ask. A relationship can be formed within minutes – so all you need to do is begin with a question.
Whether it was in the office, at charity events in London, on the plane or grabbing a coffee – a simple question repeatedly turned into an incredible wealth of opportunity.
As someone who comes from Australia, with parents in the US, I ‘know’ no one in the UK – I wasn’t afforded a traditionally ‘privileged’ entryway into the corporate world and I sit outside the 22 years of networking available to some of my peers at University. So, I asked questions. Questions that began with ‘Who would be the best to speak about…’, ‘Are you interested in…’ and ‘I’ve got this idea, could we chat?’. They finished with me seeking out five minutes of time with the big decision makers in their respective fields. Just asking a question – not relying on who I knew, yet being confident in what I knew – saw me turn those five minutes into an hour. That hour then led to a relationship, something far more valuable than who I knew, or what I knew in the first place.
The simple act of asking questions in each of these situations was something that saw me sitting down with multiple CEO’s, Senior Partners, Managing Directors and Owners of some of the biggest brands, firms and companies throughout the world. It is these experiences that have taught me the most. From fashion to financial trading, business to beat-boxing – we can all get there. You never know where five minutes could take you; the question is do you have the courage to ask?
Image credit – Search Engine People Blog