STUDY: How Do Facebook Friends Affect The Job Hunt?

By Justin Lafferty 

Facebook is increasingly being used as a job search tool, both for employers and applicants. But it’s much more than that. Facebook users announce employment changes, chat with friends about openings, and seek out new opportunities with close friends and acquaintances. But how do these relationships on Facebook affect not only the likelihood of finding jobs, but job-seekers’ moods during the hunt? Facebook recently partnered with a Carnegie Mellon University researcher to find out.

Moira Burke, a research scientist on Facebook’s Data Science Team, and Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon‘s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, wanted to find out two things: Are job leads generated more by talking with close friends or acquaintances, and what effect does talking with strong ties on Facebook have versus weaker connections during job hunts.

Burke and Kraut studied 3,358 Facebook users (59 percent of whom were women). Participants came from 91 countries (48 percent from the U.S.). Approximately 5 percent reported losing jobs during the three-month study, and 13 percent started new jobs.

The researchers wrote that traditionally and theoretically, weaker ties (acquaintances) tended to yield better job leads. Since close friends probably know the same people and have many of the same sources as the users, there usually aren’t many job opportunities created, whereas people who users don’t talk with much on Facebook tend to have different connections.

However, the study yielded some interesting findings. Facebook users who talked more with close friends regarding job hunts and job opportunities were much more likely to find employment than those who tended to reach out to acquaintances.

Facebook elaborated on this:

One possibility is that  people don’t actually hear about job openings from their weak ties on Facebook. People may not reveal their employment plight to contacts they don’t feel close to. Weak-tie stories might be about less important topics, like the Super Bowl or their vacation. It’s important to note that in this research, we didn’t examine what people talked about; we’re currently doing follow-up work to learn which friends were deemed most helpful in different aspects of their job search.

Another reason why strong ties are more useful has to do with motivation, not information. Strong ties may be more willing to put in the effort to be helpful, asking contacts about new openings, forwarding your resume, and persuading others that you’re the best candidate – or even hiring you themselves.

However, there are pitfalls to communicating with friends when looking for jobs. Users in the study who talked with close friends during job searches reported feeling happier — unless they had recently lost jobs. The study discovered that talking with close friends shortly after the end of employment only added to stress, as friends would give unhelpful advice or put too much pressure on unemployed users to find work.

Participants who lost their jobs during the study talked with the researchers about how they felt while talking with friends about their predicament:

  • “Worse … Everyone wants to know if I got a job already!”
  • “I feel worse about losing my job when using Facebook. I find it really hard to connect with people who care about me/my life. I get a lot of pity comments on Facebook.”

However, in general, unemployed users who talked with close friends tended to report lower stress levels, as they gained reassurance and comfort that other people supported their plights. The longer Facebook users in the study talked with close friends, the better they felt about their job prospects. The act of losing a job and posting about the situation on Facebook actually made users feel more at ease, as other unemployed friends lent empathy.

But not everyone agreed that sharing grief about job loss is a good thing. A few users felt that news feed, unlike the newspaper that Co-Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg wants it to be, should be more about happy news. Additionally, when friends posted about successes, it made some users in the study feel worse about their own predicaments.

Facebook summarized the study:

Talking with strong ties on Facebook seems to be useful in helping people find jobs and feel greater psychological support. But talking with those close friends may also increase feelings of stress. Perhaps recognizing that this phenomenon occurs can help buffer those feelings of stress. Overall, we see that who you talk to on Facebook matters, and different friends provide different support.

Readers: Have you ever gotten a job through networking on Facebook?

Photo courtesy of Dmytro Konstantynov /