Will you get recruited for your skills or connections?

By Haylin Belay
The Brief
When putting together a C-suite, should you recruit based on a candidate’s connections or his skill set? What about a project team or an entire organization? In other words, is it what they know or who they know that really matters? Here’s what you should look for based on the kind of team you’re building.

recruit for skills or connections

While surveys show that most Americans think connections are the key to success, each type of team has its goals and accompanying needs. Some of these are leveraging relationships, while others necessitate a focus on hard skill sets. The trick is balancing the two. Here are the traits you should look for based on the team you need. 

1.      The Brand-New Team

Starting from scratch? If you’re building a team from the ground up, you’ll need a mix of people with strong skills and strong networks. But as a newcomer on the scene, chances are your candidate pool will be a little sparse to start. So, look for candidates who can use their networks to help you fill out the rest of your firm as well as your client list—people with access to potential board members, clients or tech talent. 

2.      The Internal Team

If you’re building a team to work across departments, you’ll need people who know people, and more importantly, can communicate with individuals from disparate backgrounds, translating between them. These are your super-connectors; they combine emotional intelligence and communication skills with an experienced networking hand. That doesn’t mean looking for the chattiest person by the water cooler; there’s a difference between being popular and being well-connected, after all. Instead, draw from team leaders with reputations for reliability and trustworthiness; they’re your best shot at synthesizing information from different corners of your firm.

3.      The Executive Team

Unlike teams #1 and #2 above, your executive team is made up of professionals who have already made inroads in their fields or industries. In other words, they should already be master networkers. But all the connections in the world won’t mean much if your CTO doesn’t also have a strong background in strategy and the specific background you need to implement a new digital infrastructure. At this level, skill is everything, and experience can make or break a company. Look for leadership abilities and subject matter expertise before worrying too much about connections.  

Of course, in the end, the answer to “skills or connections?” is ideally “both!” But if you can’t put together a team of supermen, these tips will put you on the path towards building a dynamic, effective team.


Haylin Belay is a freelance writer and blogger based in New York City. She is a frequent contributor to the RelSci blog. 

RelSci is a technology solutions company that helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers. Learn more about our leading relationship mapping software at relsci.com.

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