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The Future of Work

Why Certain Facebook Friends Can Boost Your Chance Of Landing A New Job

A new study reveals that sometimes "weak" connections can be the most important when it comes to getting a referral to your next employer.

Why Certain Facebook Friends Can Boost Your Chance Of Landing A New Job
[Photo: GokGak via Shutterstock]

Since most of us (65% of adults) use social media, it's no surprise that so many people are using networking sites to find a job. According to the latest survey from Jobvite, a recruiting platform, 67% percent of the more than 2,300 people they surveyed said they use Facebook in their job searches and 35% use Twitter.

While the survey indicated most people turned to social channels to research companies, research by Glassdoor found that referrals boosted the chances of a successful hire by as much as 6.6%.

But who do you have to know to get hired? LinkedIn has built a whole business on strong vs. weak connections. Scientific research has run counter, suggesting "weak ties" are more valuable because strength correlates to redundant information and acquaintances have a better chance of introducing you to new information and opportunities.

In a new paper published in the Journal of Labor Economics, researchers from Tufts and Stony Brook University used anonymized, aggregated data from U.S. Facebook users and concluded that it takes a little bit of both. They write in Facebook’s research blog:

Most people find a job through one of their numerous weaker ties. An individual stronger tie is more likely to help than a individual weaker tie.

Weak ties are important collectively because of their quantity, but strong ties are important individually because of their quality.

The discovery came from analyzing 6 million Facebook profiles. Although this is not a true random sampling, the researchers felt confident, citing a Pew study that found more than 54% of U.S. adults have a Facebook account and 40% of social media users "friended" their closest buddies on social channels. They restricted the sample to those who have been on Facebook at least one year and list their employer.

Because it would have been impossible to find out whether a friend helped another find a job, the researchers did a proxy by identifying those users who posted that they eventually worked with a friend they were already connected to on the network.

The broad result:

"We found that 7% of the 6 million users, about 400,000 users overall, were helped by at least one friend in finding their most recent job."

This is problematic, they admit, because there is the potential for people who live near each other to work for the same employer. So they put some parameters around the findings. For example, when looking at two friends and one is employed by a company, then more than a year passes and the other friend goes to work at the same company, the first may have helped make that happen either through telling them about the job opening, making the referral, or just telling them that it was a good place to work.

To measure the strength between connections, the researchers looked for three indicators:

  • how often they tagged each other in photos
  • how many posts one wrote on the other’s wall
  • how many mutual friends they shared

The researchers say that results were similar for all three measures of tie strength.

Then it was time to determine which was more instrumental in helping get a job. They tested by counting the percentage of which came from each kind of connection. Here’s where it gets interesting:

"Over 90% of job-helping friends are weak ties. However, most friends are weak by our metric (photo tagging)."

This would indicate that our acquaintances are most likely to help us simply because there are so many of them. But can they be individually more powerful?

To determine whether that could be the case, the researchers used a regression. For those not familiar with statistics, a regression is a way to estimate the relationships among variables. In this case, the researchers mapped it out on a chart:

The upshot here was that individual strong connections were more likely to be helpful than the weaker ones.

Again, this shows that it takes tapping both close friends and acquaintances to boost the chances of landing a new job.

The researchers confess that there are some major challenges to studying friend networks and their relationship to helping find employment. The biggest one is nuanced. "We would like to emphasize that these results may not be the true causal effects of tie strength on the likelihood of a sequential job," they write. In other words, while it’s easy to say it could be associated with the chance of getting a job, it’s harder to prove if it actually was the cause.

Still they believe after testing and controlling for these potential variables, "a person is more likely to work with a weaker tie because weaker ties collectively make up most of a person’s social network. But, strengthening an existing tie should increase the probability that you will work with that specific friend."

In the end, they say, if you’re actively looking for a job, post a status update on Facebook. Then, to be sure you’re covering all the bases, send personal notes to close friends who work at places you’d like to be. Something is bound to turn up.

Related: How Does Mark Zuckerberg Generate Innovation?

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