February 09, 2008

Getting a Job: Weak Social Ties and On-Line Connections

author_brad By Bradley Wright

Last summer my wife was looking for a summer job, and she did the usual things—read the employment bulletins and sent out applications. Ultimately, though, she got a job through an acquaintance. We see this person a few times a year, and she heads up an administrative unit here on campus. My wife applied, got the job, and we all lived happily after.

This story illustrates the somewhat cynical mantra of all job seekers that it’s not what you know but who you know. Sociologists call this phenomenon the strength of weak ties.

A “weak” social tie, in every day language, is an acquaintanceship—someone with whom you are familiar with but not too close. In contrast, a “strong” tie would be a good friend or close family member, someone with whom you interact a lot. An “absent” tie would be someone who you know but don’t reclip_image004ally have any kind of relationship with.

In a famous sociological study, Mark Granovetter interviewed several hundred business people and asked them how they got their jobs. Seventeen percent reported learning about their jobs from a close friend (strong tie), 28% reported learning about it from someone they barely knew (absent tie), and a full 56% of the respondents reported learning about it from an acquaintance (weak tie).

It’s a bit of a paradox: Why are acquaintances, people we sort of know, more important in the job search process than our close friends and family? Our strong ties, after all, care about us more and would be much more willing to help us.

The answer, according to Granovetter, is that weak ties are a unique social resource: they connect us with a wider set of social networks than do social ties. clip_image008Your acquaintances each have their own strong ties—family and friends to whom they are very close to. Through your acquaintances, you gain access to their strong ties—and to the social networks to which they belong. All social networks offer various resources, such as information about job opportunities, and so by connecting with a greater number of social networks, via weak social ties, you gain access to more possible employment opportunities. 

Strong ties, in contrast, connect us with fewer social networks. Your best friend in the world would probably do anything for you, but chances are that the two of you know many of the same people. As such, it’s not that your close friends and family don’t want to help you in a job search; it’s just that they have less to offer because you probably already know about most of the contacts that they would offer. You already share many of the same networks with them. So, there’s a trade-off. Strong ties are more willing and available toclip_image006 offer help, but weak ties typically have more resources to offer.

In this context, it’s interesting to think about the many social ties created by the Internet. About a year ago, I started blogging, and through that I have had contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of people with similar personal and research interests as mine. Likewise, most college students have Facebook accounts in order to keep track of their friends and make friends with their friends’ friends (got that?). As a result of this on-line networking, this generation may have more casual social ties than any before.

The question, then, becomes the nature of these online ties. Granovetter studied fairly conventional acquaintances—people you see in person at places like the work place or social gatherings. Online acquaintances are different. If I met some of the people I know from online, I don’t think that I would even recognize them. Yes, we’ve exchanged many comments on our blogs, and I know a fair amount of information about them, how they think, what they do, but I’ve never met them in person.

Would these on-line ties be as useful in a job search? The answer is… I don’t know. The focus of these on-line relationships is social networking, getting to know each other pretty much for the sake of getting to know each other. The interactions with these people tend to be more social—what you’re doing, what interests you share in common. I’m not sure how often instrumental concerns come up. In everyday conversation, it’s easy to drop in the information that you’re looking for a job, but it might fit in more awkwardly in online interactions.clip_image010

Perhaps more importantly, though, is that the social networks and resources offered by online connections are often too distant to be of much value. For example, one of the people I interact with online lives in Kenya. Now, he may know of great job opportunities for me, and be very willing to help, but unless I’m willing to relocate to Africa they don’t do me much good. This maybe why in-person acquaintances remain so important—by virtue of meeting them face-to-face, you occupy the same physical location, at least briefly. Chances are, therefore, that the social resources they have to offer would also be close and thus of greater value.

So, do you want to get a job? Make sure to let your acquaintances know since they may be very helpful. Your online connections might be as well, but probably not as much.

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Comments

On the use of social sites like Facebook, I think like all technology, it really depends on how individuals use it. In a recent apartment search I had all but given up on finding a place. I posted a note to Facebook including only people in my geographic region. Within a week, through a friend of a friend, I had located a place.
Although these social sites provide you with a wider net to gather resources, it's still largely dependent on where you choose to deploy it. While my friends and acquaintances abroad couldn't help me with this task they could offer ideas and advice on other topics. Perhaps the class conflict of the future will be between those who fully utilize technology and those who don't.

This topic has become of growing importance to me. I have set my career aside and gone back to school to pursue a degree in sociology (but of course). For me, the question becomes, how would I jump back into the job market after school? Keeping in contact with the people whom I know from my past seems to be to my advantage. The on-line approach has seemed to be one option of keeping in touch with people whom I rarely talk to but have enjoyed professional relationships with.

I notice more and more the commercial emphasis on “social networking”. Whether it is LinkedIn, Facebook, professional Blogs, or on-line job services there seems to be a huge focus and let’s not forget money making opportunity for some with on-line “social networking”. I have started a LinkedIn account in hopes of keeping in contact with my past business contacts and keep this “social networking” working for me. In the past I have used an on-line professional service from whom I still get regular emails reminding me how important it is to keep growing my social network as I look for a new job before I need one.

I can tell you this: it is exhausting! I seemed to have picked up a new part-time job expanding my “social network” and thinking about how to keep in contact with people. Now that I have read this blog article it gets me to thinking about how one can never replace the face-to-face contact with people. It will be interesting to see what sociologist have to say about the impact and dynamics all this “social networking” creates in peoples daily lives, personal, and professional relationships.


thank you for your information, i will visit you a letter

I have used an on-line professional service from whom I still get regular emails reminding me how important it is to keep growing my social network as I look for a new job before I need one.

Oh there is nothing like networking. When you build on networking you will get the best reference. People tend to ask for the best through people they know yet, it can cause harm if the persons skills are not any good.

I have never used social networking. I would have to agree with one of the others who posted their oppinion... I also think that technology is benificial if used properly and that surely making connections are great.I am leary of networking because you do not always know who you are connected with.

I would definetly have to agree with the above post on this one because i have myself have never used social networking. Its possible that it woulc be a great thing, as well as it could be a terrible thing. You just have to be careful about who your connected with.

I think that Social Network is a good thing because technology changes everyday.It is also a bad thing because you never know who your connected to and that is a scary situation.

So far, I've been holding strong to not using any kind of social network sight and this blog just helped me stay true. I too feel that face to face communication and networking is the real deal and you still have more of a connection in the sense that you physically know that person, you can "bump into each other." I hear people say, "Yeah, I have like over 100 friends on my myspace." Yeah, "friends". No offense of course :)

Social networking is a must in this tight job market.

“weak” social tie will be the death of a one who dont take heed. We are communication ! not made of much more social networking it is a must technology is benificial if used properly. but if you know anything about me to be part of the pic in many diffrent networks large and small is something i work at social resources = greater value.

"weak ties typically have more resources to offer" if you don't really know the connection you are probably unfamilar with the people they will get you in touch with so even though you are not "really close" you also don't have bad history together this keeps it stickly professional.

Weak ties are strong because they tend to have more social connections or more aqquantainces to help you get a job. They aren't necessarily in your normal social network so they may know people that you do not. Friends and family are generally in the same social network, and while they would love to help, they just can't offer as much help as much as a weak tie.

social networks are great to have but people like me who just like to sit around and read or watch movies with their kids and spouse don't have a lot of time to make friends. the few i have i only talk to at school or in my best friends case over the phone because she lives 900 miles away.

Social networks are great!I have recently found several of my high school aquantainces on facebook. And i tried the whole posting on facebook about a job, and the article is right, they may be alot of response to your question, but in my case the jobs entailed me relocating! Friends and family love you and would do anything for you, but they normally do know the same cirlclle of people you do, so it usually isn't too much of a help!

The sociological phenomenon of the strength of weak ties can only be explained by "it's not who you are, it's who you know." The strength of this can be found by having a weak tie, you can also find "connections." It is also a great way to get to know people. Having acquaintances can be more important in a job search process, because the more people you know, the more connections you have.

Networking is one of the most important tools when it comes to finding a job. Without it most people wouldn't have jobs in today's society. 9 times out of 10 someone will look out for a close friend or relative before they take care of a stranger. Blood is thicker than water. That said, it's very important to have a strong social network to ensure your success.

The strength of weak ties is pretty ironic, but is also makes sense. Your weak ties can offer you more then your strong ties because you know a lot of the same people and networks in a strong tie. Acquaintances are more important in a job search because there are more branches out there for you to see job opportunitites.

Weak ties are....not good. at all. You gotta have connections to move up in anything, no matter what job or career. And the connections you do have need to be on the job instead of family or friends because when an employer is looking to hire you, he doesn't want the opinion of people who like you because they won't tell him the bad. Instead he wants the honest opinion of someone who has seen your work and how well you do it.

I agree that social networking is a must in todays society

I should social network more. I moved to Alabama two years ago from a different state so I still don't know alot of people. It does make it harder to find a job when you don't have ties with the place you want to be employed at.

Weak ties are a must if you are going to go anywhere, especially now with the economy in the state it's in. Having an acquaintance help you get a job is more likely to happen than if your family member were to try helping you get a job. An acquaintance doesn't know you as familiarly as a family member would. They would judge your work performance unbiased, since they are so unfamiliar with you. If a family member were to try and get you a job where they are working, there is a big chance that you might not get hired simply because they could base your work upon your family member.

Acquaintance are inportant because they know people you dont know and can offer you something better. In close ties you know most if not everyone they know, so you already know what is out there for you. Acquaintance know enough about you to tell their boss the truth about you were as family and friend would somewhat lie to get you the job.

The sociological phenomenon of the strength of weak ties is basically like its not what you know, its who you know. Close friends and family are important but when searching fro a job acquaintances are more important. Close friends and family can only get you so far but with other acquaintances the skies the limit.

a weak tie is stronger than no tie at all.

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