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The Value of Weak Ties When Networking

In our third, final post of this Networking Series, we elaborate on the importance of extended community, and how to turn making those connections into a game, where we offer three challenges to move your efforts along. Just a reminder: The Swing Shift is kicking off the Back to Business Accountability Program Jan 25th: reserve your spot today and expand your network and skills for the modern day job search.

Weak Ties vs. Strong Ties

Let’s look at the current contacts in your social network. There’s a difference between strong ties or your “inner circle,” and your weak ties or “acquaintances,” which significantly impact your next career move.

The social theory about identifying strong and weak ties within interpersonal relationships was coined by Stanford sociology professor Mark Granovetter after he published The Strength of Weak Ties. Granovetter wanted to know how these ties affect career and in particular job searches. He discovered the common assumption that strong ties - family, friends, colleagues - are the people that will help you most during the job search.

However: since those strong ties will most always be in your same social circle, where you likely spend time together and do similar things, they also receive the same information you do. This is less helpful when you’re trying to meet new people, learn new information, make a career change, or look for job opportunities.

Instead, Granovetter found that people with weak ties outside their core network are more likely to open up broader opportunities. Those different network access points provide new, unique information — like job openings — relative to other members of the only “strong ties” network.

Research supports this finding: the majority of job help was via weak tie relationships. 28% heard about new job openings from a weak tie vs 17% from a strong one. Weak ties exponentially expand your network faster, making it a numbers game.

How to Utilize Weak Ties for Networking

Given that weak ties provide more value during a job search, what’s the best way to strengthen those relationships when you communicate infrequently, or recently acquainted?

Start Telling People What You’re Looking For. As we discussed in Part 1 of this series, this is a simple, often overlooked step. Many people are reluctant to ask for help when investigating work. You need to tell your weak and strong tie network what you need so they can support you. Be clear and concise (practice if needed) so you make it as easy as possible for them to understand what’s needed.

  • Challenge: The next time someone asks “How's it going?” try this: “Actually I’m looking at getting back to work after a career break. I’m focusing on learning more about how my skills fit into modern tech marketing roles. If you know of someone I could ask for advice from, I would love to chat or connect on LinkedIn.” They may not know anyone that can help at this time, but they now know your goals and if something comes along they’ll think of you.

Tip: Always keep in mind how you can help others personally and professionally during this time. It helps you feel better about “asking for help.” And when you’re looking for opportunities to be of service to others, even in the smallest doses it’s amazing the impact you can have.

Identify Weak Ties In Areas You Want to Learn More About. The internet and social media make it incredibly simple to find information about individuals, companies, industries, and roles. And, researching can create more questions. So, as you're learning, you may question how someone managed a particular career transition, what a certain role looks like now vs. a few years ago, how an industry has shifted, and what the challenges have been for certain companies. Those are great kick off conversations with weak-tie relationships.

  • Challenge: Identify who in your current network may be able to answer these questions. If they can’t, ask if they know someone that can; and if they wouldn’t mind introducing you (see how this expands your weak tie network?)

Tip: Start with current weak tie relationships first to learn more about their professional background. Your acquaintance is a common thread to jumpstart the conversation.

Engage Your Inner Connector. Ever heard of networking karma? Remember that your network is valuable and reciprocity is important. The more people you make connections for, the more people are willing to connect you, personally and professionally. (We talk about the different kinds of contacts in Part 1.) People like helping others as long as the connection is strategic and provides value to both sides.

  • Challenge: Keep an eye out for someone who’s feeling stuck, uninspired or has a problem that needs solved. Ask questions to uncover what you can do to help. This might include a resource; a potential client; local industry or community groups referrals; relevant social media or content. The way to connect people depends on the circumstance. Being ready to listen, ask thoughtful questions, and just being willing to connect people can make a huge impact.

Tip: Don’t expect anything in return when making these connections. This challenge is how you help others. These interactions compound over time, building a vast network, willing and eager to help. Plus it’s good for you! Studies show helping others boosts happiness and overall well-being.

It's tempting to rely mostly on friends and close colleagues as you look to make a change. While they can play a part in your professional journey, studies show that they may not be the ones that keep you moving forward. All of your network - especially those “weak ties” - play a critical role. Start getting curious about those around you, ask targeted questions, and be brave and share what you’re looking for next. Creating this process, with small, more frequent achievements built in, makes it easier to start, gain momentum, and stay consistent as you look for your next great opportunity.

This is the final part of The Swing Shift’s 3 part networking series. If you missed Part 1 & 2 you can find them here along with other posts and stories on career transition. Be sure to follow @theswingshiftco on Instagram and and can join The Swing Shift Community on Facebook to gain access to other returners and helpful resources.


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