Many job seekers are using their LinkedIn connections to find a job, but how good are those connections in helping the unemployed find work? LinkedIn is one of the largest professional networking sites in the world. Millions of people are connected. Rajiv Garg with McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas and Rahul Telang with Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University wanted to know precisely how beneficial these connections were. Garg and Telang presented their findings in their 2018 research in their article, To Be or Not to Be Linked: Online Social Networks and Job Search by Unemployed Workforce. They examined the value of those LinkedIn connections in the job search efforts of the unemployed.
It was eons ago that job seekers only had traditional methods such as newspapers, job fairs, hiring agencies, and close friends and family to locate job opportunities. Networking, maintaining relationships, and searching for employment could be costly and time-consuming. Nonetheless, it worked. I remember pouring over the Sunday paper with coffee and pen in hand perusing the employment section, which meant heading to your section and glancing at every single ad. For me that meant starting with A for account management positions and going at least to R for retail management, with several stops in-between. We’ve witnessed the progression firsthand, from phone calls, to mailing in your resume, to online job boards such as Monster.com. Today it’s personal online portfolios, social networking sites and LinkedIn connections, all in an effort to stand out from the competition and get the all-important job offer.
Quality over Quantity
So, as the authors point out, the potential of social connections has long been recognized as helpful in receiving job offers. The results of their study found the benefit of those social connections is that they often provide direct access to hiring managers and improve trust and confidence due to the shared connection. Garg and Telang cite a 2014 survey by Jobvite that indicated 40 million job seekers used LinkedIn every week. Additionally, 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to find candidates, and 61 percent of candidates are hired through referral and company career pages. In their research, the authors found that job seekers used LinkedIn to search job postings, find and contact recruiters, and contact friends and family in their network for referrals. But, just how effective are these contacts in landing job offers?
The study examined whether a job seeker’s social network plays a role in job search behavior and whether strong and weak ties on social networks affected job leads, interviews, job offers, and how social networking compared to traditional job search methods. Garg and Telang used survey data from 424 college graduates who were recently unemployed or recent job seekers and LinkedIn users. The study participants had an average of 99 LinkedIn connections. Survey participants were asked how many job leads, interviews and job offers resulted from; LinkedIn, internet job boards, close friends and family, print media and recruiting agencies. They found that it is quality over quantity that matters when it comes to your LinkedIn connections.
Strong Ties and Weak Ties
According to the authors, strong ties play a positive role in all aspects of the job search, from referrals to interviews that lead to job offers. So, who are these fantastic people? They are the same people who would have probably been in your network in the days before LinkedIn. They’re family, close friends, people you interact with offline and outside of an online social networking site. Through trust and obligation, those strong ties have a lot of influence on your job search and the outcome of those efforts. Garg and Telang state, “…these are the people who are willing to make phone calls, write a letter of recommendation, or use their social influence to help you get your foot in the door.” It’s no wonder those strong ties generate more job leads at a higher rate, and thus more interviews and job offers.
On the other hand, there are those weak ties, and the researchers found that these connections do not lead to job interviews or job offers. Weak ties are those we are acquainted with but not necessarily close to, and who we do not regularly communicate with. Therefore, it is not a surprise that Garg and Telang found that these people would not be as helpful in aiding in a job search. However, what may be surprising is that weak ties can negatively affect job search efforts. For example, Garg and Telang found that LinkedIn users with more weak ties spent more time job searching on the social networking site but spent less time searching on other platforms. Though these efforts may receive more leads, the study found that such job leads usually do not convert to job offers and this can leave many job seekers frustrated and feeling like they’re just spinning their wheels.
To Be Linked or Not to Be Linked In
An important implication of Garg and Telang’s research model is that the users’ weak connections are not as useful as users think they may be. As social media users, we are conditioned to think more is better: More followers, more connections, more shares. For a professional networking platform, we now know that more isn’t always better. Many users possibly spend considerable time establishing these connections in the hope of generating future benefits.
So, does this mean you should dump all of those weak ties on LinkedIn? I see you people who have 500+ connections. No. You do not want to go dumping your connections. It is not all bad news with those weak ties. Garg and Telang acknowledge that they did not consider the spillover effect in their study. This is where a job seeker converted a job lead received from a weak tie to an interview or offer using a strong tie. One of the nice benefits of LinkedIn as a professional networking site is that one can see who is connected to whom and who they work for, possibly giving job seekers an added advantage.
Start taking a more strategic approach with who you choose to connect with on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn offers benefits and value outside of job search, especially for recruiters and those in the professional services industries. So, don’t dump those weak ties. However, what this does mean is that you might want to start taking a more strategic approach with who you choose to connect with on LinkedIn; it is quality over quantity that matters.