Remember the cliché, it’s who you know, not what you know. It was true two decades ago and it’s still true today. You could be the smartest, funniest, most talented person on the planet – a veritable godsend to any employer – but if you’re a disconnected loner, you’re not going to get very far.

This fact of modern life has been driven home repeatedly by surveys, white papers and research studies. A recently released survey by Hudson, the Washington, D.C., staffing company, said that networking was the most common way workers and managers alike secured their jobs. Managers overwhelmingly consider familiar resources, such as employees and personal contacts, to be the ideal source of job candidates.

A few of Hudson’s findings:

1. When conducting job searches, 73 percent of managers say that their company typically looks at the current employee base first when conducting a job search before considering any other candidates.

2. Forty percent of managers say that internal promotions are the best way to fill an opening, followed by employee referrals and personal recommendations (24% and 20%, respectively).

There is no need to run through all of Hudson’s numbers, because they pretty much make the same point. Hudson’s senior vice president, North America, Steve Wolfe, summed up the survey results in one sentence: “Developing and maintaining a strong network of professional as well as personal contacts can mean the difference between landing an interview and getting lost in the crowd.”

A decade before international staffing and consulting companies were spending millions on surveys and research studies proving this point, Human Resource (HR) experts  Mark Mehler and Gerry Crispin, founders and authors of CareerXroads, had arrived at the same conclusion. It wasn’t by sorting through survey data, but by speaking to HR staffers and job hunters all over the country.

Before the term “social networking” had been catapulted to the networking buzz term of the day, these men were saying friends and coworkers are the best job avenue.

Mehler and Crispin recently did their own study, which concluded that employee referrals are responsible for more than 23% of hires, while the Internet accounted for almost 21% of hires. Of those Internet hires, about 13% were through company web sites, while about 8% came through job boards. Of the job board hires, fewer than 5% came from niche sites (college, association, trade organization, local and other specialty sites). 

In an earlier study Mehler and Crispin concluded that corporate recruiting practices are flawed. They said that the internet is a great tool for obtaining job leads and information, but alone it won't get you a job no matter how impressive your credentials. The team learned that 121 of the Fortune 500 companies don't have a button on their home page leading to an employment section. That’s no surprise when you consider that most corporate Web sites bury their contact information and phone numbers. Are they trying to tell us something? Again, the duo concluded that the best way to land an interview is through contacts -- -colleagues, former employees, an acquaintance on even the mailroom supervisor who knows every manager and executive on the payroll.

Still, you’d be foolish to ignore every other job hunting avenue, no matter how precarious the odds. Don’t lose sight of the fact that thousands of  candidates find jobs on mega-job boards such as CareerBuilder, Monster and Hot Jobs. And don’t discount the value of the hundreds of niche sites that specialize in a single industry.

Lastly, if you’re really want to be on top of your career game, monitor industry blogs as well. Keep at it and you’ll be surprised by the scuttlebutt and leads you’ll stumble on.

Letter to the Editor: Your comments are welcome.