Networking, Social Media, and the Six Degrees of Separation

In a weak economy, networking adds a strong boost to the job search.

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Lisa Chau is the assistant director of Public Relations at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth.

Frigyes Karinthy's "six degrees of separation" concept suggests that any two people are connected by six steps of connection or fewer. Mark Granovetter's "theory on the strength of weak ties" advocates focusing on weak ties—people farther out on one's networks—for greater mobility. The intersection of these two models of thought can be molded into a powerful strategy for leveraging relationships, especially when compounded with social media. Like my previous article, my intent here is to understand tactics people can leverage to find and land jobs in a struggling economy.

Think about the last time you were working on a project and got stuck. Minutes, maybe hours, passed by as you tried to locate a solution. You were likely fixated on the details you already knew. You were certain if you could juggle and navigate yourself through known variables, the answer you sought would materialize.

Sometimes, the traditional method works. 

Other times, it's advisable to step away and look at the problem from a different angle, or a different environment altogether. Instead of staring at the Excel spreadsheet for another hour, go rowing for thirty minutes. Maybe your brain just needs a reboot. Or, on your way back from the boat house, you might spot an image on a poster that immediately snaps everything into place. The mind can be spectacularly innovative in associating seemingly unrelated points. 

[See a slide show of Mort Zuckerman's 5 Ways to Create More Jobs.]

Don't underestimate a change of context in helping to uncover novel solutions.    

Similarly, job seekers should look beyond their strong ties and reach out to people they are associated with four or five degrees out. Today, social media makes the job of identifying these ties much easier. Indeed, it's the premise that LinkedIn is built upon. Facebook and LinkedIn not only suggest people you may know through weaker connections, the social platforms also provide information on educational, professional, and personal interests—data essential to constructing tailored introductions and conversations. 

Career coach and founder of Career Outcomes Matter, Melissa Llarena, advises using LinkedIn groups to extend your reach to other group members, and filling the gaps in your current network. She explains,

Once you have joined these groups, the best approach is to participate in or start discussions beforehand. This builds credibility and entices folks to agree to connection requests based on the fact that you have a shared viewpoint and authentic interest in similar subject matters.

Another way to link to weak ties is to go through strong ties. To do that effectively, use LinkedIn to search for your desired places of employment (e.g. firms and companies). That search will result in folks who are second, third or even first degree connections that you should reach out to via your stronger ties; it's important to leverage your stronger ties' relationships with people out of your network but within their own.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is a College Degree Still Worth It?]

Llarena's classmate at Tuck, Jon Whitticom, gave me some good advice regarding my plans to relocate back to Manhattan or Boston next year. He suggested I get on a recruiter's radar before submitting a resume and, if I didn't have a direct connection through my immediate network, to reach out to my tier two and three connections (weak ties) to try and get a friendly, albeit less powerful, introduction. "In my experience," he says, "if you can't network your way into a company, you're at a significant disadvantage to other candidates as it shows you lack any meaningful connections in that industry." 

Personally, I push social networking to the extreme for personal and professional goals. During one of my regular scans of my Twitter feeds in 2009, I came across a post by @batess asking for tourist suggestions in the New England area. After checking out the author's profile, I learned that it was written by Stephen Bates. At the time, he was serving as a director of business strategy for Oracle. I gave him a tour of Tuck and we've been become close friends over the years. We collaborate on new ideas, provide each other with professional feedback, and I've even been a guest in the house he shares with his wife. 

Stephen is the consummate networker and globe trotter. What I lack in frequent flier miles, I compensate for in social networking. I regularly introduce him to my business and social acquaintances around the world, including a titled aristocrat. One timeline unfolded thusly:

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

  1. In 2007, I wrote several posts on for a squash partner in New York and consequently met Anja from Germany. 
  2. Anja invited me to the now-defunct, where I connected with Billa from India and Londonderry. 
  3. Billa invited me to, where I linked with a viscount based in England. 
  4. In 2009, Stephen and I discovered each other over Twitter.
  5. After Stephen informed me he would be taking classes at the London School of Economics, I introduced him to the viscount.
  6. I have physically met all the people mentioned above—Anja in Manhattan and Brooklyn; Billa in Hanover; the viscount in Cambridge; and Stephen in Hanover, Washington, D.C., and Boston.  It's important to solidify virtual connections with offline meetings. Every time I travel, I try to connect with someone new. 

    Another lesson: Always be ready for unexpected opportunities, and put yourself in situations where opportunities are likely to arise.   

    An example: Earlier this year I invited my mentee, Jenny Juarez, to attend the Tuck Greener Ventures entrepreneurship conference with me. During one of the receptions, we started talking to the woman who simply happened to be standing next to us. We were extremely surprised to discover that her entire family is involved in the film industry. She was equally surprised to learn that Jenny was a film major. Business cards were exchanged.

    [See the top 10 cities to find a job.]

    A few weeks after our encounter, the woman's husband connected Jenny with Andy Sacks, Oscar winner and producer for The Closer and Major Crimes. When Jenny flew to Burbank for an interview with ABC studios, she met with Mr. Sacks to talk about being a producer. Jenny recalls, "After I spoke with Mr. Sacks, my friend and I were given a tour of the sets at Raleigh Studios. I learned a lot and I now have a much better sense of how the industry functions. It was a wonderful experience and I really gained a lot from getting a first-hand look at how different sectors work together to create a weekly television show."

    The takeaway: Sometimes making important connections is as easy as talking to the person who happens to be next to you.

    How's that for the power of weak ties?

    • Read Paul Danos: Why Businesses Hire MBA Grads, Despite a Weak Economic Forecast
    • Check out Economic Intelligence on Twitter at @EconomicIntel.
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