NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- These days, it's not what you know that can land you that mint career gig -- it's who you know. That's not hyperbole. At Booz Allen, the management consultant firm, more than 55% of new employees are referralsfrom existing employees. The firm reports it gets 1,700 referrals from employees monthly through a program the firm calls "vital" to its recruitment efforts. Jobvite, an online employee recruitment firm, says that employee referrals account for 40% of hires nationwide. Referred employees also find jobs more quickly. Jobvite says applicants hired after a referral take 29 days to start working with a company, compared with 39 days when they come via a jobs board and 55 days via career recruiting sites. It's clear employees are getting the message and are well aware that social and business connections are the leading driver of new job offers. According to Lee Hecht Harrison, a Woodcliff Lake, N.J., talent development company, about 50% of U.S. workers say their connections were most helpful in advancing their careers. Overall, 47% point to connections as the reason they landed their last job (30% say "on-the-job-training" made the big difference, and 14% said cited having a good mentor). Only 9% said their college degree opened the hiring doors for them. "While a degree credentials a job-seeker, it's the relationships we nurture and the reputations we build that invariably lead to more opportunities for advancement," says Jim Greenway, an executive vice president at Lee Hecht. "More and more, hiring managers and recruiters are relying on referrals and recommendations for sourcing and hiring new employees," he adds. "Job seekers need to use their connections -- online and in real life -- to uncover open positions and gain introductions." Aside from personal relationships, Greenway says that social networking is the biggest weapon in a job candidate's referral arsenal. Being active professionally on social media sites such as LinkedIn ( LNKD), Twitter and Facebook ( FB) gets you on the radar of other professionals, who can pass your name along to company decision makers. "As social recruiting becomes more sophisticated, it is increasingly important for today's workforce to use their online professional network to establish new relationships, credential themselves, engage in meaningful activity that builds trust and grow their sphere of access," Greenway says. Another good way to get an employee referral screen: Reach out to former work associates and let them know, on discreet terms, that you're looking for a job. Ask for a referral, or at least your chance to make your case for a referral over coffee or lunch. Also, join industry association groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and make connections in your community. No doubt, social networking is a great referral tool, but nothing beats a face-to-face connection to get your resume at the top of the heap. And always remember, companies love employee referrals. It saves them time and money in the recruitment game -- two commodities any executive finds priceless.