Job Hunting? Both Weak and Strong Social Ties Can Help (Study)

What roles do close contacts on social networks and contacts that users have weaker ties to play during job searching?

What roles do close contacts on social networks and contacts that users have weaker ties to play during job searching?

Facebook research scientist Moira Burke, Tufts University assistant professor of economics Laura Gee and Stony Brook University assistant professor of sociology Jason Jones teamed up to answer that question, and they presented their results in a Research at Facebook blog post.

The study found that social media users searching for jobs are more likely to find them via their weaker ties, mainly because their weaker ties outnumber their stronger ties, but their stronger ties are more likely to be helpful during the job search process—weaker ties represent quantity, while stronger ties represent quality.

Burke, Gee and Jones described how they defined job search help:

How do we know if a friend helped another friend to get a job? We use a rough proxy: whether a person eventually ends up working at the same place as a pre-existing Facebook friend. It’s an overestimate with a lot of noise (people living in the same area often become friends and also happen to work at the same employer), but we used some strict temporal thresholds to reduce noise. The figure below shows the process. Let’s consider two people (called “ego” and “alter”). By our proxy “job help” measure, if ego and alter were Facebook friends, and then alter joins Firm A, and then more than a year later, ego joins Firm A, there’s a reasonable chance that alter helped ego find her job. Alter may have known about a job opening, referred ego, helped ego practice her interview, or simply made ego aware that Firm A was a good place to work.


The researchers said they determined tie strength via factors including photo tagging, posts on each other’s walls and mutual friends, adding:

Then, we tested if most jobs collectively come from weaker ties by counting the percentage of jobs that came from weaker or stronger ties. The left side of (the chart) below shows that over 90 percent of job-helping friends are weak ties. However, as the right side of (the chart) shows, most friends are weak by our metric (photo tagging).

So although weak ties are collectively very helpful in job finding, that is because we have so many weak ties. Think about your own social network: How many close friends do you have? How many acquaintances?


And on determining usefulness, they wrote:

Weak ties are collectively useful, but are they individually more useful, too? To test that, we estimated the probability that each type of tie would be helpful. Imagine assigning a probability to each one of your friends about how likely they are to help you find a job. We found those individual probabilities using a regression. And we found that the stronger ties had higher probabilities of helping a person find a job, as illustrated in Figure 3. That means that an individual stronger tie was more likely to be helpful than an individual weaker tie by our tie-strength metric (photo tagging).

We already know that networking is important to finding a job. Our study shows that weaker ties are useful because they are numerous, but that a single stronger tie is more useful than a single weaker tie.


Finally, Burke, Gee and Jones shared the following advice for job seekers:

If you’re currently unemployed and looking for a job, or your current job is expiring, you might consider broadcasting your job-seeking status to your weak ties. Consider writing a status update letting people in your network know that you’re looking for a new job. Narrowly target specific requests for job help to your close friends, such as sending a message asking about their workplaces. Our findings suggest time-consuming, costly communication should be directed at strong ties, but informing weak ties about your job search is also a good investment as long as you can reach many weak ties quickly.

Readers: What are your thoughts on this study’s findings?