The key to landing your dream job could be connecting with and then sending a single message to a casual acquaintance on social media.
That’s the conclusion of a five-year study of over 20 million users on the professional networking site LinkedIn, researchers report in the Sept. 16 Science. The study is the first large-scale effort to experimentally test a nearly 50-year-old social science theory that says matter more than strong ones for getting ahead in life, including finding a good job.
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“The weak tie theory is one of the most celebrated and cited findings in social science,” says network scientist Dashun Wang of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who coauthored in the same issue of Science. This study “provides the first causal evidence for this idea of weak ties explaining job mobility.”
Sociologist Mark Granovetter of Stanford University . The theory, which has garnered nearly 67,000 scientific citations, hinges on the idea that humans cluster into liboplay:social spheres that connect via bridges (SN: 8/13/03). Those bridges represent weak social ties between people, and give individuals who cross access to realms of new ideas and information, including about job markets.
But the influential theory has come under fire in recent years. In particular, a 2017 analysis in the Journal of Labor Economics of 6 million Facebook users showed that increasing interaction with a friend online, thereby strengthening that social tie, .In the new study, LinkedIn gave Sinan Aral, a managerial economist at MIT, and his team access to data from the company’s People You May Know algorithm, which recommends new connections to users. Over five years, the social media site’s operators used seven variations of the algorithm for users actively seeking connections, each recommending varying levels of weak and strong ties to users. During that time, 2 billion new ties and 600,000 job changes were noted on the site. Aral and his colleagues measured tie strength via the number of mutual LinkedIn connections and direct messages between users. Job transitions occurred when two criteria were met: A pair connected on LinkedIn at least one year prior to the job seeker joining the same company as the other user; and the user who first joined the company was there for at least a year before the second user came onboard. Those criteria were meant in part to weed out situations where the two could have ended up at the same company by chance. Overall, weak ties were more likely to lead to job changes than strong ones, the team found. But the study adds a twist to the theory: When job hunting, mid-tier friends are more helpful than either one’s closest friends or near strangers. Those are the friends with whom you share roughly 10 connections and seldom interact, Aral says. “They’re still weak ties, but they are not the weakest ties.” The researchers also found that when a user added more weak ties to their network, that person applied to more jobs overall, which converted to getting more jobs. But that finding applied only to highly digitized jobs, such as those heavily reliant on software and amenable to remote work. Strong ties were more beneficial than weak ties for some job seekers outside the digital realm. Aral suspects those sorts of jobs may be more local and thus reliant on members of tight-knit communities.