The strength of weak ties, and how to make the most of them

When you are trying to draw on your network, who would you first contact for help? Your family? Coworkers? Perhaps a close circle of friends? Sociologists call these individuals "strong ties," and indeed they are the people that most of us reach for when we need advice or a recommendation.

However, research proves that as devoted as our strong ties are, they are NOT the individuals most likely to help us find a new job. In "Getting a Job: A Study of Contacts and Careers," sociology professor and research scientist Mark Granovetter discovered that acquaintances, also called "weak ties," were more likely to provide useful tips on new openings.

After you check out Granovetter's theory on the spread of information in social networks, think of someone you have lost touch with someone in your industry or a related field. That person might be the missing piece of your career puzzle! Drop them a quick note asking how they have been, and mention that you are thinking of them. LinkedIn can be a great asset in this situation, if you are sure to personalize your connection request.

You will discover that your "weak ties" have a wealth of knowledge and professional contacts that can help you in your career! If it feels a bit inauthentic to email contacts out of the blue, find an article online they would appreciate and share it in your first communication. The best way to restore a relationship is often to "lead with generosity" by offering something useful in your initial re-connection effort.

Finally, when you have caught up on a decade's worth of news, take a deep breath and ask for that recommendation or connection. You will probably be pleasantly surprised at how willing your network is to help you! As always, remember to express thanks and offer to return the favor in the future. 

Learn more about Mark Granovetter's work at You are invited to sign up for my weekly "Career Authentically" newsletter as well.