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Professional Networking: Strength In Weak Ties
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Professional Networking: Strength In Weak Ties - Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Strength In Weak Ties

Executive Leadership Articles

Professional Networking: Strength In Weak Ties

The depth and breadth of professional networks are often determined by the strategy with which they are formed. If you strive for depth, you probably curate your network, limiting it to a chosen few, strengthening relationships through regular, personal contact. If you strive for breadth, you shake a thousand hands, attend networking events, and add “likes” to shared items on social media, perhaps offering a birthday greeting or a short response to some statement about someone else’s day. Either of these networks has its strengths, but one is better for people in search of new jobs, and it’s probably not the one you think.

In his 2016 book Messy: the Power of Disorder to Transform Our Lives, author Tim Harford explains that very often, the most creative ideas and the best collaboration happen in big, broad, messy ways, rather than through our best-laid schemes or best intentions. Put a bunch of environmental engineers in one space, and they will collaborate in ways already familiar to them, but mix in a criminal psychologist, some marketers, an educational theorist, a lawyer, and a high-school basketball coach, and you could end up with something new and completely different. Wider ranges of experience mean wider variations in experience, expertise, and thinking styles. This goes back to a topic we’ve explored a few times recently: the value of diversity in the workplace, not only racially or ethnically, but in ages, abilities, work histories, and personality types.

When it comes to finding new employment, however, far-flung professional networks are stronger than smaller, tighter webs not only for these reasons related to diversity, and not only by sheer force of numbers, but because there is unexpected value in looser ties. The value of these distant connections was first proposed by American sociologist Mark Granovetter in 1973 when he introduced the concept of “strength in weak ties.” Granovetter’s original article has been cited by other scholarly work more than 41,000 times, according to Google Scholar, and is the most cited work in the Social Sciences. Granovetter concluded that good jobs were often discovered through the help of distant contexts, such as old college classmates or former coworkers, not though close friends.

Harford asserts that in a clique, everyone knows everyone and is tuned in to the same information about the same people, while distant, weaker connections are more likely to tell you something you don’t already know, including information about job leads or possible hires. If he’s right, those seemingly insignificant “likes” and short comments you leave on someone else’s shared photos or job updates become rather important, because even though they don’t contrbute anything substantial to others’ lives, they keep you and the recipient of your “likes” aware of one another, and sometimes awareness is all two parties need. A friend you knew in Boy Scouts twenty years ago needs a coordinator for a special event, asks himself, “Who do I know who…?” and your name pops into his head, because he has some vague idea that you’ve done similar work and you’re always leaving smileys on photos of his garden. Ask people around you about how they got their jobs, and you may be surprised by how many say it was through “a friend of a friend.”

Professional networks are important beyond whether or not they can find you (or someone you love) a really great job. There’s a lot of meaningful value in deep relationships, in being available to lend your talents toward someone else’s needs. These relationships cannot merely be accumulated like the convention swag you collect at the trade shows, and nobody has time to edit video for everyone else’s websites. But there is value also in those weaker ties, those social media friendships you accept even though you’re not sure you have much to talk about anymore, because these second- and third-tier relationships are a lot stronger than you would predict.


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Professional Networking: Strength In Weak Ties - Executive Leadership Articles

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