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How to Turn Weak Ties into Solid Job Leads

21 January 2010 Written by: Kevin Donlin One Comment

In his 1973 article, “The Strength of Weak Ties,” sociologist Mark Granovetter, after interviewing dozens of people, determined that most jobs were landed through “weak” interpersonal ties — not friends telling friends, but acquaintances telling friends.

In other words, if you’re mostly asking friends to send you job leads, you won’t succeed as fast as asking acquaintances, who then ask their friends to help you.

Counterintuitive, yes, but aiming your networking efforts at people you don’t know well is a faster way of gaining access to new social groups, where new job leads may be.

To quote Granovetter: “[T]hose to whom we are weakly tied are more likely to move in circles different from our own and will thus have access to information different from that which we receive.”

Weak ties include “an old college friend or a former work-mate or employer, with whom sporadic contact had been maintained,” according to Granovetter.

Here are three ways to turn weak ties with acquaintances into solid job leads …

1) Throw out “hooks”

An easy way to help people latch onto your ideas is to give them mental hooks.

About 6 weeks ago, I got a networking email from Cleo P., which began as follows:

From: Cleo [mailto:cleo@XYZ.com]
Subject: Networking Favor Request from Cleo – Hey, Do You Know . . .


I have entered into a very targeted job search campaign which focuses on a select list of potential employers; and I was wondering if you could lend me a bit of help. Could you let me know if you know anyone who works at any of the companies on the following list so I can ask for a referral?

Now. I get dozens of emails like this every week. Most I can’t do anything with. But for some reason, I decided to check Cleo’s profile on Zoominfo.com. It turns out that she and I graduated from the same university.

This changed everything. I’m more likely to refer a fellow alum to people in my network than someone out of the blue, because we share an affinity.

So, the more “affinity hooks” you give to people you barely know, the more likely they are to latch onto your message and forward it to people they know.

Example “hooks” to use in networking messages:

  • schools you attended (alumni ties can be strong)
  • companies you’ve worked at (former co-workers are another form of alumni)
  • fraternities, sororities, other non-religious and non-political groups
  • charities or non-profits you’ve volunteered at

In Cleo’s case, I know the director of alumni career services at my alma mater very well, so I forwarded her email to him. I don’t think it hurt her chances.

2) Offer a reward

One way to get people to pay attention is to pay them cash.

That’s the angle M. Shane Smith, a marketing professional from Bloomington, Minn., has taken. He’s offering a $1,000 reward to anyone who gives him a warm introduction to a senior-level executive that leads to a job.

What is a warm introduction?

“Networking for many people means just getting a name, but a warm introduction is when someone does a little ‘gushing’ about you to others. For someone to gush, we need to meet,” says Smith, who hopes his $1,000 bounty produces more meetings.

In about 6 months, it has led to 6-8 warm introductions, 80% of which produced conversations with decision makers, according to Smith.

Smith also encourages referrals by including talking points in his networking emails, so recipients can speak about his skills specifically. How does he do it? By including quotes from executives in his emails.

Example: “Challenging and problem situations do not intimidate Shane and I often referred to him as: Mr. Motivation, Mr. Communication and Mr. Innovation.” – Chief Operating Officer.

3) Mail out letters

If a networking email sent to 40-100 people can produce 2-3 job leads, that same message — printed and mailed to only 10-20 people — can produce an equal or greater number of leads.

That’s because, in my experience, a snail mail letter merits more attention than an email. Perhaps because paper letters imply that you took the time, effort, and postage to get in touch.

So, I suggest you make a shortlist of 20 “weak networking connections” you want to get the word out to by U.S. Mail.

What can you write?

One Guerrilla Job Hunter, Jeff D., from Oxford, Michigan, wrote and mailed a four-paragraph letter and hit pay dirt this past November — his 20 networking letters produced three solid leads and a job, within four weeks.

His letter had three key parts:

1. Introduction: “I have recently left XYZ Co., where I was a JOB TITLE, and handled THESE JOB DUTIES.”

2. Achievements: “I played a pro-active role by _______________ that added __________________ to the bottom line and reduced costs by _________________________.”

3. Employment goals: “I seek a significant leadership role where my ___________________ skills and experience are required.”

The words aren’t as important as the fact that you’re clear about what you’ve done, what you want to do next, and what you’d like the reader to do.

Whom can you write to?

Well-connected school friends, former co-workers or managers, former clients or vendors, attorneys, real estate agents, bankers, old neighbors, and the like.

Jeff mailed his letter to 20 such people he knew professionally. It was a “weak tie” — a former vendor — who ultimately helped him find a new job.

Now, go out and make your own luck.

Resource: If you want to try something different in your job search, you can learn more about it at Kevin Donlin’s Guerrilla Resume website.

Kevin Donlin is a frequent Career Jockey contributor. He is also a co-author of Guerrilla Resumes. This is a recommended Career Jockey resource for writing a resume that will make you stand out and get noticed.

You can learn so much about this author by clicking here.

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