There is a theory in social science that has a direct bearing on anyone searching for a job. It’s called the strength of weak ties. The idea is that weaker, arm’s-length social connections are more helpful than the strongest connections when it comes to getting a new job. New research has affirmed that theory.
It was a revolutionary idea when it was introduced in 1973.
“Connections with people who are more distant often end up being more valuable in terms of meeting new job prospects than people who are close friends or associates.”
Erik Brynjolfsson is a professor at Stanford University who helped test this theory. He and his colleagues did it using LinkedIn.
“Many of you who’ve used LinkedIn are familiar with the ‘People you may know’ feature, which introduces you to people,” he said.
Sometimes LinkedIn’s algorithms would introduce people with lots of mutual connections — people who almost definitely know each other. Other times, it would suggest more distant introductions. Brynjolfsson and researchers at Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and LinkedIn analyzed the anonymized data and watched what happened next.
“What we found was that people who were introduced to more distant connections were more likely to get new jobs,” he said.
Twice as likely to get new jobs, in fact. So as much as we think our best friends and family friends are the key to job-hunting success, it’s actually the near-strangers, the friends of friends, who appear to be more important.
“Pretty much strangers can be sources of very valuable information,” said Brian Uzzi, a professor of leadership at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who wasn’t involved in the research. Your close friends and co-workers probably don’t know more than you do about job openings or other helpful info. More distant connections may. Uzzi said this has implications for how people network.
“When people hear about networks, they think about networks as all about targeting: ‘I need to target someone who’s gonna really help me out.’ Yes, some networking is about that, but if that’s the only way you network, you really limit yourself,” he said.
In other words, don’t be afraid to branch out.
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