Before online social networks came along, finding a job was often a matter of who you knew.
The digital age hasn’t debunked that conventional wisdom. But it has deluded some into believing that having hundreds of connections on LinkedIn or other professional social networks will make their next job search quicker and more successful.
If you think that’s the case, Rahul Telang, who teaches information systems and management at Carnegie Mellon University, has some news: It’s the quality of your connections — not the quantity — that counts.
“It’s OK to have a large network,” Telang said. “But realize that it’s only a certain part of your network, people who you know well … those are the people who are going to be very helpful.”
Telang and Rajiv Garg of the University of Texas analyzed how unemployed people used their social networks in their searches for jobs and how effective those strategies were.
They found the strongest connections on LinkedIn and other career-related online networks generated the most success in finding leads for jobs, landing interviews, and ultimately getting job offers. Strong connections are more likely to go to bat for you, calling employers on your behalf, and helping you get your foot in the door, Telang said.
Their study, based on a survey of 424 jobseekers, was published in Management Science, a journal of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
“Strong ties play a positive role in all aspects of job search … however, weak ties are mostly ineffective in generating job outcomes,” they wrote.
The average job hunter in their sample had 99 LinkedIn connections. But a 2014 study found that 41 percent of LinkedIn users had over 500 connections and that 15 percent reported having more than 1,000. Telang said the career-related networks make it easy to pile up the connections. That makes some users overestimate the value of their network.
“It’s very easy to build your network. It’s just a mouse click away. But the value of that connection is not very large,” he said.
So what does Telang do when he gets an electronic message from someone he scarcely knows asking to connect on LinkedIn?
“I just say yes most of the time,” he admits. “But when I’m looking for a job, it is highly unlikely that I’ll reach out to these people.”
Teland and Garg found that “weak connections are not as useful as users perceive them to be.”
“What our research suggests is that while these connections might provide other useful information, they are not very useful for job outcomes,” they write in their study.
Telang’s advice to job hunters: Spend more time cultivating and working with your strong connections and invest less time in your tenuous connections.