Get a job faster using this 50-year old networking tactic

A 5-year study of 20M people and 600K jobs led to this finding

What does nearly every social networking site have in common?

They’re based on the same social concept.

Facebook? Check.

LinkedIn? Check.

Twitter? Check.

The crazy part?

The idea is 50 years old.

Strength of weak ties

In 1973, sociologist Mark Granovetter developed arguably the most influential social theory: the strength of weak ties.

He argues that our weak ties, or loose personal connections, are far more valuable in providing new opportunities than our strong ties, or close relationships.

Strong ties = friends

Weak ties = acquaintances

Strong ties

People you communicate with often, such as your spouse, sibling, best friend or co-worker, are your strong ties.

Strong ties are your 1st level connections.

They know similar information as you do.

There’s 2-way conversation (you both interact with each other).

And their social network overlaps greatly with yours.

Because you are close to one another, your strong ties tend to be less useful at helping you get a job or grow your network.

Weak ties

People you infrequently communicate with are weak ties.

You probably don’t have their number stored in your phone.

You may send them a holiday card but rarely talk to them.

These social relationships are more distant.

Weak ties are often 2nd and 3rd level connections.

Because you are farther apart socially, your weak ties can act as a jumping off point for you to access a new network of people.

Weak ties are very useful for you to find a job.

Focus on the weak ties to get a job faster

Years ago, InMaps (now defunct) from LinkedIn Labs let you visualize your network.

You could view clusters of your connections and easily see the communities and influencers in your own network.

Here’s my network (from 2013):

LinkedIn InMaps

The blue group is work colleagues (IBM), the green group relates to a topic of interest (learning) and the other colors are schools I attended.

School and company alumni groups are very useful. Your weak tie with someone in that group can bridge you to the strong ties that help you get a job.


A true story

It’s 2013 and I’m teaching graduate classes at Columbia.

Emma was a student in one of my classes.

She knew that I worked for IBM.

Emma applied for a job in IBM’s Marketing division.

I worked in IBM’s Learning division.

She asked me if I knew anything about the marketing job or the people on the marketing team.

I didn’t, but told her I’d check my IBM network and see what I could find out.

IBM is a big place (400,000+ people), so I was looking for someone to connect Emma with.

I learned that Cedric, my close IBM Learning colleague, did some work with a marketing team.

Cedric and I are 1st level connections (strong tie).

He was good friends with the hiring manager, Luka, and connected us.

Luka became a 2nd level connection (weak tie) for me.

I then introduced job candidate Emma to hiring manager Luka.

Emma became a 3rd level connection to Luka (from Emma to me to Cedric to Luka).

Guess what happened?

Emma got the job and worked 10+ years at IBM.


The strength of weak ties is powerful.

But don’t just believe me.

Large-scale study confirms weak ties for job seeking

Scientists at MIT, Harvard and Stanford conducted a 5-year study* using 20 million people and 600,000 new jobs found on LinkedIn.

They confirmed that weaker ties increased the likelihood of job mobility the most.

Weak ties in social networks

Yes, connecting with someone on social media doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a strong tie between you.

You can still use weak ties in social networks to get a job or grow your network.

Some examples:

LinkedIn: People you may know

LinkedIn shows how many 1st level connections you share with the person they recommend connecting with (2nd level connection).

Twitter: Suggested for you

Twitter suggests people who follow you and who your other followers also follow.

Facebook: Mutual friends

Facebook shows common friends you have.

Bottom line

The strength of weak ties powers social networking.

Focus on your 2nd and 3rd level connections to improve your job prospects and grow your network.

Thanks for reading.

See you next week.


*study on strength of weak ties for job seekers (article, abstract, full paper)