By Diane Stafford

The Seattle Times, September 27, 2017 —

If you are targeting a particular company and you don’t personally know someone who already works there, you have to meet them. (Thinkstock)

Job hunters often grouse, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Forget the grammar quibble about whether that should be “who” or “whom.” Focus instead on the statement’s truth: Who you know really does matter.

Indeed, studies by the Society for Human Resource Management and other researchers show just that.

A report published in October 2016 found that employers were hiring about 1 in every 100 applicants. But when the applicants came from employee referrals, the hiring ratio improved to 1 in 16.

For applicants who were vetted and placed by employment agencies, the hiring odds were 1 in 22. For candidates who were “proactively sourced,” meaning provided by recruiters who search through online resume databases, job boards, and professional social media profiles on LinkedIn to find potential candidates, the ratio was 1 in 72.

So what do the statistics mean in real life?

If you are targeting a particular company or job and you don’t personally know someone who already works there or in that capacity, you have to meet them.

You need to use that often-advised but often-misunderstood technique: networking.

That starts with telling everyone you know that you’re in a job search. Don’t be shy or embarrassed. But don’t burden them with complaints or whining. Instead, craft a brief summary about what kind of job you want, where you want it and why you’re perfect for it.

Your relatives and friends may not be connected to the job you want but they may know someone who is. They may grease the introductions. But more important is the research you do on your own.

You must find the professional organizations and other groups through which you can meet people who do what you want to do. Attend their meetings. Learn about their organizations’ hiring needs. Bring copies of your resume. Be engaging and succinct about your skills, experience and interests.

Effective networking means that you are clear and timely in your pitch about what you can bring to the organization — not what the organization can do for you.

You also need to understand how the recruiting, or headhunting, industry works. It’s often said that the time to get to know headhunters is before you need one. That’s because headhunters work for employers, suggesting candidates that fill stated needs. Headhunters aren’t in business to find you a job.

 That said, you should make yourself visible to headhunters who specialize in the areas that fit your goals.

Diane Stafford is the workplace and careers columnist at The Kansas City Star.