In the 1970’s Sociologist Mark Granovetter conducted a study in which he found that the more satisfied individuals are in their jobs, the more likely they are to have found them through contacts. These contacts he referred to as “weak ties” (i.e., those in someone’s outer circle of contacts) versus contacts he referred to as “strong ties” (i.e., those in someone’s inner circle).
This distinction may appear counterintuitive when looking for a job because logic would seem to dictate that those in my inner circle, or the people I’m closest to, would be my best bet in landing a new job. Based on Granovetter’s study, however, those closest to me are the least likely to have, or even know someone, who would have a job, while those furthest from me would be the more likely ones.
What was so revealing about Granovetter’s study is in dispelling the common belief that family members, friends, colleagues and others with whom we are closely associated are our best bet to a new job. They may be excellent choices with whom to brainstorm our next career move, get advice and support from, but very unlikely to get us a job.
Family members are usually the least likely to help you in your job search.
Around the same time Granovetter was conducting his study, Stanley Milgram (of the famous pain threshold study) in his “The Small World Problem” study found that if you target someone in a different geographic region from where you live, there are normally only five to six people, starting with someone you know, standing between you and the targeted person.
This study evolved into the well-known “Six Degrees of Separation” theory, which by the way Milgram never coined. However, if you put the theories of Granovetter and Milgram together, both of which were backed with empirical evidence, you have a strong case as a job hunter to identify and reach out to those individuals (ironically the “weak ties”) who are in a position to hire you. However, this is where most job hunters go astray.
Most job hunters think networking starts and ends with their “strong ties” as described by Granovetter, but rarely ends by reaching out to the “weak ties” or the contacts in Milgram’s study who are 5 or 6 people removed from the “strong ties.” For example, it’s not uncommon for someone who recently lost his/her job to say “I told all my friends and colleagues about my job situation, and that if they know of anyone who’s got a job to let me know.”
The problem here, if the friend or colleague doesn’t know anyone who’s hiring, the discussion usually ends here, often times leaving your contact frustrated and feeling helpless, and certainly does nothing to advance your job search. If you draw on the theories of our two social scientists described above a much wiser strategy is to ask your contacts who they know in your target industry that would be a good person to contact. In other words, get those “strong ties” to bump you up to meet the “weak ties” who are now new contacts.
In job search this idea of using your immediate contacts to introduce you to new ones is nothing new (i.e., getting “strong ties” to connect you to “weak ties.”) When you think about the social networking site LinkedIn your “first degree” connections are typically people in your inner circle (“strong ties”) who can connect you to “second degree” connections, thus advancing you along Granovetter’s continuum to the “weak ties.” Likewise, under Milgram’s theory you would be using an intermediary contact (“second degree”) to get to the person who can most help you land a job.
Along these same lines, The Five O’Clock Club, a national career development and Human Resources organization, uses a methodology in which your “stage one” contacts, meaning the people closest to you but the furthest away from having a job, can advance you to “stage two,” which are now people closer to the hiring managers or others of influence in getting a job. In Five O’Clock Club terminology once you have reached “stage 3” you’re actually interviewing with someone who has a job or is in a position to create one.
In sum, when considering the different theories and methodologies advanced above, it’s about moving along the continuum from the “strong ties” to “weak ties”; creating the intermediaries (your “six degrees”); applying them via social media (LinkedIn and your first and second degree connections); and, bumping yourself up to those “stage 3” contacts who not only have a job, but a job that pays well, and one in which you can be truly satisfied. When you think about it, I’m not so sure Granovetter and Milgram would be astonished with all the hullabaloo when discussions of networking come up.