I have some bad news. Life is not a meritocracy. We all wish we lived in a world where, if you are the best candidate for a position, you get the position. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in. In our world, who you know has a tremendous impact on your ability to get a position. Up to 85% of jobs in the business world are found through networking. In veterinary medicine, this number is probably much lower, but nonetheless many people get a position due to Who They Know. This is a case study which illustrates this concept.
Intern A is hard working. She is dedicated to her patients and wants them up and aware after surgery. She has her own ideas about how to do things and is not very receptive to input from other experts. She walks around with a chip on her shoulder and rarely looks like she’s enjoying her work.
Intern B is hard working. She is dedicated to her patients and wants them to be comfortable and pain-free after surgery. She listens to feedback from others and seeks out others’ opinions. She smiles constantly and is happy to be at work.
In a just world (which is a fallacy), which of these two interns should get a residency? Based on my assessment, I would say Intern B. Now, I’m not the direct supervisor for these interns, so it’s entirely possible there are amazing qualities of Intern A about which I am unaware. But, from where I stand, Intern B would be the best choice. Which one actually got a residency? You probably saw this coming: Intern A.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t TRY to be the best. Chance favors the prepared, so if you happen to get a position somewhere with the right people, if you are more enthusiastic, more professional, and more engaged, you are more likely to successfully get your next position. So absolutely do this: try hard, work hard, be pleasant to work with, have a good application packet. All of these will help. But, at the end of the day, it often comes not to who you know, not what you know.
So some additional advice: cultivate your professional relationships, and reach out to people at institutions where you’re applying. However, if you don’t get the residency you wanted, try not to get too discouraged, criticize yourself, or take it personally. It might have nothing to do with you and everything to do with who someone else knew. Besides, you never know how much happier you might be with your second, third, or fiftieth choice!