You can take graduate program after program, and work long hours in an entry-level position in hopes that someone will notice how hard working you are.

But neither of these things are as effective for getting ahead than leveraging a business relationship.

Hard work is mandatory, of course, but as a leader, you want to work smart, as well. And smart people know that age-old saying is true: that it's not what you know, but who you know, that will help you get ahead in life. That's why I am all about networking, especially on Linkedin.

It's no secret that my friends and followers on Linkedin have helped boost my visibility online, but they've also opened doors allowing me to diversify my revenue streams.

When I started my online business, I never imagined that I would be sharing my experiences with others, offering consulting services, or even public speaking. Thankfully, I had a bunch of friends help guide me down the right path-- and that was to success.

One example of how powerful social media networking can be was when I asked my followers for help getting nominated for a TED Talk, which led to so many referrals in 24 hours that the nomination page broke down. It was amazing!

It's truly about who you know, and not necessarily what you know in 2017.

Who Were You Referred By?

As unfair as it may seem to some (can we say nepotism?) getting a job is easier if you know someone who already works at a company you want to get in at, or even in an industry that you are trying to enter.

Studies which have analyzed how people landed their interviews and ultimately, gotten jobs, showed that many of these people already had a nod from someone in the company, or on the hiring committee.

That isn't to say that these people weren't qualified. They of course, went to school and have the required work experience. But when it came down to two people with equal education and qualifications competing for the same job, the person who "knew someone" -- even if it was just a regular employee and not someone in management -- almost always ended up with the position.

How to Make Connections

Of course, you're not out of luck if you don't have any connections. It is quite possible to get a job with no connections. It just requires that you have the work, the portfolio (if applicable) and the cover letter to get you in. But companies are much more wary of hiring an unknown than someone who already comes with a recommendation.

It's more than about getting a recommendation and back history on their latest employee. People who have a connection to someone in the company usually feel a sense of loyalty, and are less likely to bolt if the job gets tough.

They often have a better sense of the company, too, because they often learn about the company from that referring friend. It's a win-win. Both parties know more about the other, and accordingly, the result is a more likely match.

If you don't have a contact, don't write off working for the company of your dreams forever. It is possible to make a contact. Try seeing if you have a connection on LinkedIn, or attending a job fair where you know the company will be, or asking if the company does informational interviews.

You can also start out by looking for small contracts, if that works in your type of business. One job leads to another, and soon, the key people in the company will get to trust you.

So how do you start building contacts? Networking events are a great place to start. Meet people, get your name out there, collect business cards, and make connections on LinkedIn.

Mentor and be mentored. Speak at events, share your expertise and write articles for publication. Ask people you admire for a working coffee or lunch. Soon, you'll have your own roster of people you can call on when you're looking for your next position.