Feb 10, 2017
When studying for my Masters in the UK, all my fellow graduates were applying for the same jobs. We told each other about the opportunities and we all applied and all competed for the same positions. This reliance on our close connections, or strong ties, was certainly useful and successful for many of us, but for me it was a weak tie that made the difference and guided me towards a life changing opportunity.
· Strong tie = a good friend or colleague whom you see regularly.
· Weak tie = someone you see occasionally or even less than that.
When applying for my position on my Masters program, I was given a tour of the University campus by a girl who was just completing her studies. She told me about a job she was starting for a firm in Dubai. Having exhausted all the career opportunities through my strong ties and the internet, I decided to re-connected with her. This was 11 months since we’d met and we hadn’t had any contact since. Hoping that there might be an opportunity in Dubai, I sent over my CV with a short e-mail message which she passed on to the CEO. She tells me that she also mentioned how charming and polite I was even though she’d only met me once when I was on my best behaviour (for which I’m always grateful)!
I was the only applicant for the job. They didn’t advertise for the role and after moving to Dubai a few months later, I happily stayed in this organisation for almost five years!
This is the power of weak ties.
On a side note: She is now one of my best mates. Always a reminder that most of your good friends will have been weak ties at one point.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
This expression holds a lot of value and truth, but we often assume that we need to really know people in order to benefit from their connections, knowledge and influence. We don’t.
Weak Ties have been shown to be more influential in people getting jobs than Strong Ties (see the link below for original research)… and this is why:
Over reliance on Strong Ties
Strong Ties are great because you know they’ll be there for you when you need them and you can be sure they’ll put in a strong reference for you. But typically, the reason they are a strong tie is because they move in the same circles as you. This means that they will provide you plenty of insights and ideas that are already closely linked to your current path.
Weak Ties on the other hand are the people who go to the same yoga class as you every Tuesday morning, but you only ever say ‘hi’ and ‘bye’ to. They are the guys on your best mate’s football team who you’ve met at a few parties but only ever spoken to about ‘the big match’ from the weekend. You are friends on Facebook because you met at a wedding last year, but you unfollowed them when they started posting too many ‘adorable puppy’ videos.
Weak Ties move in circles you don’t, so they know about opportunities you and your strong ties may not have come across. They have contacts in Government, in big corporations, in charities and in sports teams. And because they know you (I assume you quickly and effortlessly built great rapport with them) or because they know one of your Strong Ties, social and peer pressures will tend to lead them to be willing to give you a leg up and put a good word in with the boss if you show you will be grateful.
If you want to progress your career, find amazing opportunities, broaden your horizons or find your future best friend, it’s time to invest some energy exploring your weak ties with a little more curiosity.
1. If you want to have more options and bigger opportunities, you need to go beyond your immediate circle of contacts.
2. You don’t need to be best buddies with someone for them to want to help you out.
3. Take an interest. If you don’t ask questions to the people at your Zumba class then you’ll never know them as anything other than another wiggling bottom.
4. Helping other people feels good. Let other people feel good by helping you and return the favour when you can.
Interested in the research behind this blog? Check out the work done by Mark S. Granovetter (p.1371):