When you’re looking for a job it’s pretty common to hear the advice that you should use the power of your social network to your advantage. So when looking for a job, most people attempt to build stronger relationships with the ‘right’ person. After all, the closer you are to a person – the stronger your tie is to them – the more likely they will be to help you out, right?
According to the Paradox of Weak Ties (PWT) our strong ties are the least likely to help us out.
The PWT begins with the notion that individuals with similar backgrounds tend to flock together (birds of a feather flock together?), most especially those with a similar background in race, age, religion, education and/or occupation. If you look around, you may just find that some of your strongest ties look like you, work in the same office or went to the same University. And as a result of this human tendency to flock together with those that are similar to us, social networks become clusters of like-minded people.
Close friends are great to have, but the problem with these strong ties and like-minded clusters is that the people within the social network are likely all to have the same information.
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Think about it like this: if you ask your best friend to introduce you to someone new, they’re probably going to have a hard time because they mostly know the same people as you. So if you want to be introduced to someone new you’re going have to ask someone who isn’t in your immediate network. An acquaintance – a weak tie. Sure, you’re not as connected to them, but this just reinforces the fact that they come from a different background, have new information and thus be able to expose you to a whole other network of people. This is the Paradox of Weak Ties: you’re more likely to receive valuable help from an acquaintance than you are from your best friend.
This same concept applies to jobs. If you ask your close friends (your strong ties) about job help, chances are that they won’t be very helpful because they’ll have the same information as you. They’ll use the same job websites. They’ll have the same LinkedIn connections. They’ll have the same ties to the same companies. But if you ask your acquaintances (your weak ties) they probably have different LinkedIn connections and new information that could help you find your dream job.
But don’t take our word for it. In one of the most cited studies, Granovetter found that 16.7% of individuals had found their job through a strong tie, 27.6% through a weak tie and 55.7% of people found their job through a medium tie (someone they saw ‘occasionally’). In other words, you’re almost twice as likely to find a job from someone you rarely see than a person you see regularly.
So while friends are great and close friends are even better, don’t ignore your acquaintances (Facebook is a great tool for keeping up with your ‘friends’). Because what you may find is that while your friends may offer you comfort and stability, it’s your weak ties that offer the potential to change in your life.
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