You shouldn't discount the value of any of your online friends, even if you're not that close to them, when searching for a job, new research finds.
Both close friends and simple acquaintances are helpful to people looking for work, according to a new study from researchers at Facebook, Tufts University in Massachusetts and Stony Brook University in New York state.
The research, which used data from Facebook, revealed that most people find a job through one of their weaker ties, online friends with whom they are just acquaintances. However, an individual close friend — a stronger tie — is more likely to help than an individual weaker tie.
"Weak ties are important collectively because of their quantity, but strong ties are important individually because of their quality," the study's authors wrote in a Facebook blog posting.
The researchers came to their conclusions after looking at various types of Facebook user data. In order to determine if an online friend helped a job seeker find a job, they looked specifically at whether a person eventually ended up working at the same place as a pre-existing Facebook friend. [See Related Story: 5 Proven Ways to Land the Job of Your Dreams]
The study's authors acknowledge that this might be an overestimate because of various reason, including that people living in the same area often become friends and also happen to work at the same employer, however they used some different methods to reduce those types of influences.
The researchers said if two people are Facebook friends and one starts working at a company that the other joins one year later, then it is reasonable to assume that the first friend helped the second friend find the job. The first friend could have told the friend about the job opening, referred the person, helped the individual practice interview skills or just let the person know that the company was a good place to work.
To determine if a Facebook friend was a close or weak tie, the study's authors looked at data such as how often the two contacts tagged each other in photos and wrote on each other's walls, and how many mutual friends they had.
The research revealed that most jobs are found via friends with weaker ties. However, the study's authors acknowledge that this is because most friend connections are weak by the study's metric.
"So, although weak ties are collectively very helpful in job finding, that is because we have so many weak ties," the researchers wrote.
To determine which type of friend is most valuable on an individual basis, the study's authors assigned a probability to each contact. This number showed how likely it was that the person would help a friend find a job. The researchers found that the stronger ties had higher probabilities of helping a person find work.
"Our study shows that weaker ties are useful because they are numerous, but that a single stronger tie is more useful than a single weaker tie," the researchers wrote.
Based on the results, the researches suggest job seekers take several different approaches when using their social networks to find work. First, the researchers advise people to broadcast to their weaker ties that they are looking for a job by writing a status update about their search. At the same time, these job seekers should send specific close friends individual messages asking about their workplaces.
"Our findings suggest time-consuming, costly communication should be directed at strong ties, but informing weak ties about your job search is also a good investment, as long as you can reach many weak ties quickly," the study's authors wrote.
The study's authors admitted that there are some gaps in the data that could influence the results, since not all U.S. workers are on Facebook and not all job-search interactions are conducted online.
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Labor Economics, was co-authored by Laura Gee, an assistant professor at Tufts University; Jason Jones, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University; and Moira Burke, a research scientist at Facebook.