Weak Ties versus Strong Ties
Weak ties are those people who you do not know well…those people with whom you only have a casual relationship.
Wait a minute. Everyone has been telling you that you need to network and develop deep relationships to help in your job search. That is still true.
Here is the problem.
People who know you really well, know the same people you know. People who know you more casually likely know a lot of people you do not know.
Why Would Weak Ties be More Valuable than Strong Ties?
This concept comes from a section of the book Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant. Look for a couple of more posts based on this book.
Strong ties are our close friends and colleagues, the people we really trust. Weak ties are our acquaintances, the people we know casually. Testing the common assumption that we get the most help from our strong ties, Stanford sociologist Mark Granvotter, surveyed people in professional, technical and managerial professions who recently changed jobs. Nearly 17 percent heard about the job from a strong tie. Their friends and trusted colleagues gave them plenty of leads.
But, surprisingly, people were significantly more likely to benefit from weak ties. Almost 28 percent heard about the job from a weak tie. Strong ties provide bonds, but weak ties served as bridges: they provide more efficient access to new information. Our strong ties tend to travel in the same social circles and know about the same opportunities as we do. Weak ties are more likely to open up access to a different network, facilitating the discovery of original leads.
Here’s the wrinkle: it’s tough to ask weak ties for help.
The premise is that weak ties know about people and opportunities that your strong ties do not. Therefore, weak ties can be more valuable to you in your job search than strong ties.
Asking for Advice
Most of us are not comfortable asking weak ties for help. Heck…I am a guy, I do not like asking for help from anyone!
The magic word is to ask for advice.
When you ask for advice, you will rarely be turned down. If they do turn you down, they are a jerk and you do not want to talk with them anyway.
When you ask for advice from a weak tie, it is a compliment.
It might sound like — Can you give some advice on:
How to get hired at your company?
Who do I need to talk to at your company to get a xyz job?
How to best hear of new opportunities at your company?
You are not asking for a job! You are just asking for a little bit of advice.
This fits nicely into the asking for A-I-R—Advice, Insights, and Recommendations.
Weak Tie Example #1 – Past Colleagues and Managers
Weak ties can come from a variety of areas.
Take a moment and read about Steve in the post Introverted Sales Guy Job Search – Case Study.
Steve very methodically reached out to past co-workers and managers who he had worked with over the last 20 years. Many of these people he had not spoken with for over 10 years. He reached out and reached out, and finally found a former colleague who was looking for an account manager. This former colleague remembered him as an excellent account manager and a really nice guy.
It was through this weak tie that Steve landed his job.
Weak Tie Example #2 – Family Relationships
If you have children still at home, you likely have a huge amount of weak ties. It is your children’s friends parents.
Think about that for a second. If they are still in school, playing team sports or involved in other school activities, you have access to people who have networks that may only barely intersect your network.
Even if your children are grown, look to their network for access to potential connections. One trend I am seeing is our reluctance to reach out to people much younger than us. The problem is, when we hit our 50s, 60s or beyond, our networks may age out. I wrote about this in the post Has Your Network Aged Out and Abandoned You?
We need to be constantly looking for new connections and sometimes they will be younger than you would expect.
Weak Tie Example #3 – Professional Relationships
You have a lot of professional relationships outside of work. How about asking for help from your:
- Financial Advisor
- Hair Dresser or Barber
- Personal Trainer
When I was looking for a high school math teaching position, my most valuable networking connection was …. my chiropractor. At that point, I had been seeing her for over a dozen years and she had seen me through two very difficult situations, a ruptured disc in 1993 and my near-fatal bicycle accident in 2002. She knew me well, why I was pursuing a pivot into teaching and knew a lot of people I did not know, including several local school superintendents.
Willingness to Reach Out to Weak Ties
All of these weak ties know a lot of people who you do not know. As Adam Grant said in his book, it’s tough to ask weak ties for help.
If you can become comfortable reaching out to weak ties, your network will expand greatly…and so do your opportunities.
Have your weak ties been more valuable than strong ties?
Tell us about it!