Today, my good friend and fellow deep thinker Tim Walker pointed me toward an article from Time.com called Using Twitter and Facebook to Find a Job. This prompted a short, private back-and-forth on Twitter about the benefits of social media for work seekers and the overarching connections to Richard Bolles. It’s Richard Bolles who has come to be most commonly connected to the high-value idea of developing “weak ties” in our professional networking.
What are these weak links and why are they so darn valuable? I know one of the first groups we tend to reach out to when we need new work are close friends and family. It makes a certain amount of sense: if these folks won’t come to our aid, then who can we really rely on in our time of need? It turns out our strongest links may not be the most effective, however. Here’s the counter-intuitive approach from Bolles:
It makes sense that the people you are closest to will have more in common with you; they will tend to have the same interests as you, and they will tend to know the same people as you; there is a lot of overlap between your circle of 250 and their circle of 250. And because of that overlap, they will be more likely to know what you know. And in the same way, they will be less likely to know what you don’t know; in this case, of possible job-openings. It is when you start getting farther away from your core, and start finding people with less overlap between your 250 and theirs, that you will find the people and information that you, and those closest to you, are less likely to know. Though it seems paradoxical, it is the people that you know the least well, who are most likely to be helpful in your job hunt. This is called “The Strength of Weak Ties.” (emphasis added)
Bolles’s work is a wonderfully useful extension of the work proposed by Mark Granovetter around the same time in the early 1970s (and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they built off even earlier work). If you’re inclined to read up on some truly outstanding academic work, take a look at this later article from Granovetter, The Strength of Weak Ties: A Network Theory Revisited. You’ll find many of the same principles. Here’s a wee snippet:
It follows, then, that individuals with few weak ties will be deprived of information from distant parts of the social system and will be confined to the provincial news and views of their close friends. This deprivation will not only insulate them from the latest ideas and fashions but may put them in a disadvantaged position in the labor market, where advancement can depend, as I have documented elsewhere (1974), on knowing about appropriate job openings at just the right time.
So what can we quickly draw from these juicy bits of knowledge? Don’t be afraid to reach out to individuals not in your tight inner circle. Even the most tangential connection may be the one that helps you settle into your next work gig. If the thought of contacting people you haven’t spoken to in years is daunting, start smaller. Reach out to people you know, industries you’re familiar with, groups you belong to and then take it one step outward.
- Use LinkedIn to find new colleagues and groups who are connected to your own contacts.
- Join in on Twitter and seek out interesting people. Start up a dialogue there and expand your network.
- Go offline and volunteer with a nonprofit. Give five hours a week and you’ll be amazed at the diversity of people you’ll meet in your work. Plus it has the bonus of making a contribution to a worthy cause.
If you’ve had success at developing your own weak links to find work, what did you do? Love to hear your stories.