The Importance of Weak Ties in the Job Search

It may seem counter-intuitive, but weak ties (loose, distant relationships), are more likely to deliver employment opportunities than strong ties.

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This article on weak ties is part of the Coaching Collective series, featuring tips and expertise from Flatiron School Career Coaches. Every Flatiron School graduate is eligible to receive up to 180 days of 1:1 career coaching with one of our professional coaches. This series is a glimpse of the expertise you can access during career coaching at Flatiron School. 

Of the last 100+ graduates who shared details of their new tech jobs with Flatiron School, close to 50% reported first connecting with their employer through networking. This tried-and-true method is still one of the most effective ways to land a job. As the saying goes, “It’s not what you know, but who you know that matters.” Surprisingly, how well you know people matters even more, and not in the direction you might think. Turns out that the connections that are more beneficial to employment opportunities come from relationships known as weak ties. 

What Are Weak Ties?

The weak ties theory, one of the most influential social theories of the last 100 years, says that infrequent, distant relationships (not closer, stronger relationships) are beneficial to employment opportunities. Recent research from Harvard, MIT, and Stanford included a five-year set of experiments on LinkedIn with 20 million people around the world and set out to test the weak ties theory. MIT’s Sloan School of Management reported that “weak ties allow distant clusters of people to access novel information that can lead to new opportunities, innovation, and increased productivity.” 

This news should encourage job seekers to go a layer deeper into their networks and expand their circles to include new relationships. Furthermore, job seekers interested in tech positions may stand to benefit the most. From study co-leader Erik Brynjolfsson, “We found that weak ties create significantly more labor market mobility in digital and high-tech sectors. This may reflect the fact that there is more rapid change and need for novel information and connections in those industries.”

How To Find Your Weak Ties

Start with your Strong Ties

A common objection to networking is “I don’t know who to contact” or “I don’t have a network.” The reality is that we know more people who can help us than we think we do. 

Whether or not you’re an expert networker or just getting started: begin with your immediate circle. Draft an announcement to post on LinkedIn, Twitter, or your preferred social media app. Draft an email and send it out to your existing relationships, attaching your resume to help them easily forward it on if they can. Whether a social media post or an email, start with close family and friends and work your way up to former colleagues, teachers, classmates, or teammates.

In your outreach – and this is key – ask your existing relationships to forward your news or resume to their own network! Again, from Brynjolfsson, “A practical implication of the research is that it’s helpful to reach out to people beyond your immediate friends and colleagues when looking for a new job.” Remember, it’s not the existing relationship that is as likely to increase employment opportunities as it is the more distant, i.e., second or third-degree relationship. The friend of a friend or family member is who you want to reach! 

Cast A Wide Net

Next, tell everyone you know that you’re looking for work, especially people you just met. Find out where the people working in the role you want tend to hang out, IRL or digitally. Your Career Coach can help you identify how to go about finding these individuals and also what to write or say to get a conversation started. 

Take confidence knowing that helping others activates the release of feel-good hormones in our brain, both for those giving and receiving. People generally like helping people, which is why including some way to help the person you’re reaching out to could improve your chances of hearing back. Some ideas: $5 coffee gift card or contribution to a cause they care about; interviewing them on a topic they have expertise in and posting it on social media. You may even help your new connection earn a nice referral bonus since many employers offer these to their employees for referring candidates into open positions.

Rinse and Repeat

It can be daunting to contact complete strangers or ask your existing network for help, and it takes work to begin and nurture relationships. If ever there was a time to use data to build your confidence or stamina, networking would be it. If the data shows that a) networking is the most productive way to land a role, b) more roles are unposted or “hidden” (i.e., there are more opportunities available to you than what you see posted on job boards), and c) that weaker ties create more opportunities for job movement, then it’s time to do the work. 

Final Thoughts

Remember those 100+ Flatiron grads who reported networking success? Only 4% responded saying they were first connected after simply applying. The time is going to pass anyway. How will you spend your precious time and energy?

I hope you’re inspired by the following handful of self-reported networking accounts, detailing how grads first connected with the employer that eventually hired them: 

  • “Speaking with a pool client” 
  • “Talked to the principal during the school tour”
  • “Referral through a librarian”
  • “Met the current director of the data science team at a yoga class.”
  • “I met the owner of the company playing hockey in a local league.”

Share your search with everyone – you never know who might be the key to unlocking your next job opportunity. 

About Lindsey Williams

Lindsey Williams is the Senior Manager of Coaching at Flatiron School. She has more than 15 years of experience in the EdTech spaces and has held a variety of roles from Recruiter and HR to Campus Director and Training Director.

Disclaimer: The information in this blog is current as of July 10, 2023. Current policies, offerings, procedures, and programs may differ.

About Lindsey Williams

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