How to Use Your Personal Connections to Generate Job Leads

By Gerald Walsh ©

Most people hate the thought of networking. For example, when I ask participants in my job search workshops what comes to mind when I say “networking” or “networker,” they come up with words like ruthless, big-talker, gossiper, slick, devious, tricky, disingenuous, and a bunch of other words I can’t repeat here.

No one wants to be thought of as the insincere glad-hander you find at networking events – the fellow who presses a business card into your hand while he looks over your shoulder for someone else more important to talk to.

This is why I avoid the term networking when speaking about job search. To me, building personal connections is much different – and more effective – than traditional networking. Building personal connections, something you should be doing continuously, is more about developing meaningful relationships with others that are characterized by give-and-take. This means that the relationship is mutual and of value to both parties involved.

It’s Not What You Know But Who You Know

Everybody is familiar with this old saying. And believe me – it’s alive and well in the career industry. In survey after survey, it’s reported that roughly half of all jobs are found through some form of personal connection. That person might be your next-door neighbour or a distant acquaintance. But regardless, they are part of a social network that you and I and everyone else have around us. So, who are these people?

I am willing to bet that your list is a longer than you think. In fact, I am confident you can come up with at least 100 names or more pretty quickly. Start by listing your:

Family members, friends, friends of friends, friends of your parents, parents of your children’s friends, relatives, neighbours, former classmates, old teachers, professors, coaches, past employers, clients, suppliers, co-workers, club members, community leaders, lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant, realtor, banker, financial advisor, insurance agent, health club members, alumni, church members and service club members.

You can see that it won’t take you long to come up with a great list of names. To simplify the task, you might categorize them this way:

Level 1 connections: People you have a close connection with and see frequently such as family, friends, and neighbours.

Level 2 connections: People you would describe more as work-related colleagues and associates.

The reason these categories are relevant was brought out in a well-known study by Mark Granovetter, an American sociologist and professor at Stanford University, called The Strength of Weak Ties.

Granovetter reported that job seekers were more likely to find jobs from leads and information passed along to them by people to whom they were not particularly close. This contradicts the widely-held belief that those closest to you will be the most help to you in finding a job.

When Granovetter measured the strength of social ties between job seekers and the people giving them the lead, he found that of those who found jobs through personal connections :

Only 17% saw their contact “often”, 56% saw their contact “occasionally”, and 28% saw their contact “rarely”

His conclusions? The people in your life who you know but not too well (aka “the weak ties”) are the ones who will help you the most in your job search. To use our categories, Level 1 would be considered your “strong ties” and Level 2 your “weak ties.”

The main reason Granovetter concludes that your best job leads come from your weak ties (Level 2) is that they move in circles you don’t. They work in different sectors, socialize with different people, and know about different job opportunities than you do.

On the flip side, your strong ties (your Level 1 contacts) move in the same circles as you and there’s a high probability you already know about or will uncover the same job leads as they will.

However you must not overlook the very significant role your Level 1 contacts play in your job search. This is the group that will help you through tough times. Since you know them best, it’s the group that will give you honest feedback on your resume, help you with practice interviews, empathize with you when you don’t get the offer you hoped for, and boost your confidence at times when you need it most. Always remember to show your gratitude to them and let them know how important they are to you.

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For a deeper look at how you can build relationships that will help your career, I’d highly recommend reading Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi. In his book, Ferrazzi talks about “social capital” (which he defines as the information, expertise, trust and total value that exists in a relationship) as being today’s most valuable currency. A great read.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @@Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn