Skip The Networking And Build Personal Connections Instead

By Gerald Walsh ©

The word “networking” often brings up negative emotions. For example, in my job search workshops, I ask participants what comes to mind when I say “networking” or “networker.”

They come up with words like big-talker, gossiper, devious, tricky, and disingenuous.

No one wants to be thought of as the insincere glad-hander you find at networking events: The person who presses a business card into your hand while they look over your shoulder for someone more important to talk to.

Building personal connections is much different—and more effective—than traditional networking.

It is 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

In survey after survey, it is reported that roughly half of all jobs are found through some form of personal connection. That person might be your next-door neighbour, a former colleague, or a distant acquaintance.

I bet your list of personal connections is a lot longer than you think. In fact, I am confident you can come up with at least 100 names 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, hairdresser, 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 organize this list into:

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

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

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

Granovetter reported that job seekers are more likely to find jobs from leads and information passed along to them by people they know, but who are not particularly close. This contradicts the widely-held belief that those closest to you will be the greatest help 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 whom you know but not too well (“the weak ties”) are the ones who will help you the most in finding a new job. 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 (Level 1) move in the same circles as you and there is a high probability you already know about or will uncover the same job leads as they will.

Having said that, don’t overlook the important role Level 1 contacts play in your job search. This is the group that will help you through tough times. They will give you honest feedback on your resume, help with practice interviews, and boost your confidence at times when you need it most.


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Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and author. 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