Looking for a job? Log into Facebook chat right now. The place where many of us go to kill time and avoid doing work could actually be key to finding work in the future.
A new study released Thursday morning by Facebook found that your close friends are the most likely to help you get a job in this tough economy. Sounds obvious, right? But it actually negates the classic sociological theory that weaker acquaintances—those who interact with different groups, read different websites, and talk about different things—will connect you with your dream job. In other words, the people who get and see information your insulated inner circle doesn’t. It turns out that the “strength of weak ties” hypothesis, popularized by sociologist Mark Granovetter in the 1970s, may no longer apply to our digital age.
Moira Burke and Robert Kraut, the authors of the study, filtered through survey responses from 3,000 participants and internal Facebook data encompassing nearly a quarter of a million users. And they found that the Facebook users who spent more time chatting with the friends and family they consider themselves closest to were more likely to find out about jobs. Those who did so had a 33.2 percent probability of finding a new job, while those who spent more time talking to acquaintances had a 6.5 percent probability of finding a new job. What accounts for the difference? It’s not social-ladder climbing or blatant nepotism. Rather, it’s the lengths your best buddies are willing to go to get you hired.
Burke, a data scientist at Facebook, and Kraut, a professor of human-computer interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, found that casual acquaintances weren’t as helpful, because their conversations were less personal—more about sports or vacations than about your search for a job. Meanwhile, good friends were more likely to go the extra mile, give a stellar recommendation, practice interview questions, and know what you’re looking for—which is especially helpful in tough economic times.
“When the economy is really bad, it’s not enough to hear about a job opening. You need someone to vouch for you, or to make job opening when it didn’t exist, or to refer you to HR,” Burke says. Kraut notes that regardless of the economic situation, good friends are more likely willing to invest effort and time and attention for you.
Dylan Scandalios, a coordinator for publishing development at San Francisco–based gaming startup PlayHaven, snagged his gig in early 2012 thanks to the recommendation of a close college friend who knew he was about to graduate and begin the job hunt. He was connected with his future boss and was hired soon after.
“He didn’t recommend me to get something out of me down the line. He recommended me because that is what friends do: give something with no desire for anything in return,” Scandalios says. “My teachers drilled it into my head that I would soon learn, ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know.’ [But] I always thought the person would be older, wiser, in a position of power. Instead, it came from a friend.”
Career fairs, résumé workshops, and informational interviews are all well and good. But as we sink deeper into the era of interconnectedness, these traditional routes are beginning to matter less and less for job hunters. According to a 2011 study by the research firm Jobvite, around 78 percent of people who said social media helped them get hired cited Facebook as the most important tool.
Miriam Salpeter, an Atlanta-based career coach and author of Social Networking for Career Success, says the Facebook study’s general findings don’t surprise her, but she does still stress the importance of building contacts in the field you want to get into.
“I think one of the best things about social media is that you can expand the network of people who know, like, and trust you without necessarily always needing to meet those people in person,” she says. “You can get to know someone pretty well via frequent and brief online interactions. Those online interactions often result in people becoming familiar and comfortable enough with someone’s expertise to refer that person for a job.”
Burke, who started thinking about this topic as a Facebook intern a few years ago, says that “one of the things that I care most about is that people have a greater awareness about how their friends can help them and that we can understand we’re not alone.” Noted: keep your acquaintances close and your job opportunities closer.