September 18, 2010

Applying the strength of weak ties to find a new job

Trying to get a new job? Have you sent out many application letters but without any success? Well, sending application letters in response to job openings might no be the most effective approach to getting a new job. Maybe a change of tactic may help open some new doors for you. First, here is a brief explanation. After that, I'll offer a suggestion of how you may use it.

The power of weak ties
Sociologist Mark Granovetter wrote a classic publication in 1974 called Getting a Job. He has studied how people had actually found their current job and found out that 56% of them had found it by networking, 18,8% through formal channels (job openings, recruiters), and 20% by applying directly. Furthermore, he found that of the people who had found their job through networking (which the majority of the people did), 16,7% found it through a close relationship (a "strong tie"), someone whom they met a least once a week, 55,6% found it through a relationship they met only occasionnally, more than once a year but less than twice a week (a "weak tie"), and 28% through a relationship they met with only rarely, once a year or less (an insignificant tie). The surprising conclusion is: people usually don't find their new jobs neither through formal channels, nor through close friends and relationships. Instead they find them through weak ties, people they meet only occasionally, people in the periphery of their personal network. The reason is your friends and close relationships move in the same circles as you and see and know roughly the same as you. What they know, you are likely to know too already. But the weak ties people introduce you into new worlds. They have links to new networks and see what you don't see. Therefore, they may be the people who may catapult you into new environments.

An example of using the power of weak ties

Once you realize the importance of weak ties, it is relatively easy to start using this knowledge. Here is one approach you might try. First, write a simple and brief e-mail text in which you a) greet the person, b) say that you are looking for a new job and explain what kind of job or working environment you search, c) ask the person if he or she knows someone you might talk to about this. To give you just an idea of what such an email might look like, here is an example:

Second, make a selection of, say, 5 people you have weak ties with (people you meet with occasionally, more than once a year but less than twice a week). Perhaps you may use a social network site like LinkedIn or Facebook to make your selection. Send the e-mail to these people. Wait for the response. Hopefully, you'll be introduced to one of more people who may be interested to talk to you. If not, you can easily repeat the process of sending out a few emails. Even if this process does not lead to new opportunities, this would not be the worst thing in the world because it is not hard and takes relatively little time. Have a go and see how it works. Let me know.


  1. Another strategy I love is the one described by Earl Nightingale in Lead the Field:

    1. Select a business where you would like to work.
    2. Take a month to learn as much as you can about that business
    3. Make an appointment with the head of the business and provide the solutions you could find for improving his business. Offer to help for free to implement these solutions.
    4. Profit ;)

    This is what a guy did during the Great Depression and got a job without directly asking for one. When everyone asked for money he offered the only thing employers needed: solutions.

  2. Surely there have been changes since 1974? I would guess in favour of weak ties.


  3. thx Peter and Stephan. Yes, Stephan, I think there certainly have been changes. I think the density of our networks has become much greater on average and I think it has become much easier to move information throught networks and to make leaps through networks. But I think the weak links principle still stands. I would be interested if anybody has some recent research information on this matter, by the way.

  4. Hey Coert, let me give you my own example:

    Including my current job (and including the jobs I had as a student) I have had 12 jobs (I might be forgetting something here, but nothing significant). Of these 12, only 1 was found through an official letter applying for the job after seeing the job opening. 4 jobs came via close ties, 3 via occasional contacts, 1 via a rare contact, 1 by volunteering withing the organisation first, and 2 by applying directly.

    When I first realized this, I was stunned and amazed. But it is actually very logical, and now it feels very reassuring, because I am looking for a new job and contacting a lot of people! All the letters I have sent over the years almost never brought me anywhere, so I have become a very strong believer in networking.

    Thanks for the post, btw!

  5. "It is hardly possible to overrate the value ... of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves, with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar." ~John Stuart Mill (1806-73)

    I found this nice quote in a new book 'Superconnect'( relates nicely to this blog

  6. This makes so much sense. The formal channels can only provide so many contacts (that look relevant). The informal contacts / weak links, provide not only many more prospects, but becasue they are reached through a your network, informal or not, they lead you to places that are relevant, if sometimes surprising. It looks random, but it's not. Plus, when the contacts are reached with introductions the trust level is higher.
    So, once again, we find clear evidence that networds are critical to our lives.


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