Relationships – The Key To Successful Job Hunting

Let’s say you are looking for a new job. You go to LinkedIn to update your profile and explore your social network.

But who should you contact for a referral to a potential new employer? According to a recent study of more than 20 million people published in Science, your close friends (on LinkedIn) are not your best bet: instead, look to acquaintances you do not know well enough to share a personal connection with.

The strength of weak ties

In the context of social networks, American sociologist Mark Granovetter invented the expression “the strength of weak relationships” in 1973. He contended that the stronger two people’s links, the more their friendship networks would overlap.

Simply put, you are likely to know all of a close friend’s friends, but only a handful of an acquaintance’s friends.

So, if you are looking for work, you are undoubtedly already aware of everything your nearby neighbourhood has to offer. And your weak ties – your acquaintances – provide the most opportunity for new discoveries.

Weak ties and jobs

A group of LinkedIn, Harvard Business School, Stanford, and MIT academics set out to collect empirical information on how weak relationships impact job mobility.

Their study was built on the work of LinkedIn developers to test and refine the platform’s “People You May Know” recommendation algorithm. LinkedIn’s algorithm, which recommends new individuals to add to your network, is updated on a regular basis.

One of these updates compared the benefits of encouraging the creation of strong links (recommendation to add close friends) against weak ties (recommending acquaintances and friends of friends). The researchers then tracked the users who took part in the “A/B testing” to determine if the difference had an effect on their job results.

Over 20 million LinkedIn users from around the world were randomly allocated to one of three treatment groups. Users in each group were presented with slightly different new contact recommendations, causing some groups to create stronger links and others to form weaker ones.

The team then counted how many jobs each group’s users applied for and how many “job transmissions” occurred. Job transmissions are especially interesting since they are characterised as gaining a job at the same firm as the new contact. A job transfer implies that the new contact assisted in landing the job.

Moderately weak ties are best

The study used causal analysis to go beyond mere correlations and establish a relationship between link creation and employment. There are three key discoveries.

#1 The recommender engine influences link development. Users who received more weak connections developed considerably more weak links, whereas users who received more strong links produced significantly more strong links.

#2 The experiment shows that somewhat weak relationships are more than twice as helpful as strong ties in assisting a job seeker in joining a new firm. What exactly is a “moderately” weak tie? According to the study, job transfer is most likely from individuals with whom you share around 10 mutual friends but seldom engage.

#3 The strength of weak connections differed according to industry. Strong linkages enhanced employment mobility in less digital industries, whereas weak ties increased job mobility in more digital ones.

The bottom line

This is the first LinkedIn research to causally confirm Granovetter’s thesis in the employment market. Large-scale studies of correlations between the strength of relationships and job transmission have found that strong ties are more advantageous, which was previously thought to be a contradiction.

In terms of practical application, the study defines the ideal parameters for recommending new relationships. It was discovered that the connections most helpful in landing a job are your acquaintances, people you meet in professional settings, or friends of friends, rather than your closest friends – people with whom you share about ten mutual contacts and with whom you are less likely to interact on a regular basis. 

So if you want a new job, get networking!