Why Weak Ties Matter in Your Job Search (and How to Use Them), with Rob Kim

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Many times, getting a job depends on who you know. If you have a strong network, your odds of finding your dream job are much higher. But what about weak ties? Those people you’ve met, but who wouldn’t be considered a close tie? They can be more helpful than you might expect, says Find Your Dream Job guest Rob Kim. Weak ties often have information that you can’t get anywhere else. Rob suggests finding your courage and reaching out to those folks you don’t know well. They could hold the key to your next position. 

About Our Guest:

Rob Kim is a career strategist at the  University of British Columbia

Resources in This Episode:

Want more career advice and help? Listen to Rob’s podcast, Career Carrots.

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 385:

Why Weak Ties Matter in Your Job Search (and How to Use Them), with Rob Kim

Airdate: February 8, 2023

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. 

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. TopResume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster. 

Get a free review of your resume today. 

Go to macslist.org/topresume. 

You may think that people who don’t know you well can’t help with your job search.  

That’s a mistake, says today’s guest. Even the most casual of acquaintances can make a huge difference when you look for work. 

Rob Kim is here to talk about why weak ties matter in your job search and how to use them. 

Rob is a career strategist at the University of British Columbia.  

He’s passionate about all things related to careers. He was also named the LinkedIn Top Voice in 2022. 

He joins us from the city of Vancouver in Canada.

Well, Rob, let’s get started. What do you mean by weak ties? 

Rob Kim:

Well, it’s based off of Mark Granovetter’s work. It’s a social theory back, I think, in the sixties, seventies, and it talks about strong ties versus weak ties. 

So, you know, your strong ties are your people that you’re close with, you know, family, friends, you have a lot of shared interests, as well. Right? Weak ties would be Mac, you and I would be a weak tie. Right? Maybe someone that you have an acquaintance, could be a coworker you have, maybe a few shared common interests, and that theory talks about how weak ties are actually as critical or, in some cases, maybe even more important for people’s careers in terms of finding new opportunities. 

And so, you know, when I discovered that theory, I thought it was very fascinating, and I thought a little bit of, like how does that mean then- what does that mean when I’m networking? Or when I’m looking for a job? And so, I’m here to kind of share with your audience a little bit of, like, hey, sometimes it’s focusing on those weak ties. It’s not always about, hey, I need this strong network. 

Mac Prichard:

It seems counterintuitive, Rob, that someone who is a casual acquaintance could make a difference in a job search. Why is that so? What does the research and your own experience as a career strategist tell you? 

Rob Kim:

Well, again, with the weak ties and this kind of theory, it’s, you know, saying, hey, you’re not getting a lot of new information maybe in your strong tie circle. And so, you might get introduced to a new opportunity, maybe an industry or role that you never thought about. Weak ties, they bring value by bringing in that kind of outside information. 

What’s really actually interesting is in the Journal Science, last September, they actually did a study. They looked at twenty million people over a five-year period on LinkedIn. They looked at about six billion new ties, and then from that, around six hundred thousand new jobs created. What was really cool was seeing how they said that there was a causal link between, you know, the people who had weak ties and the power of weak ties in terms of getting a job. 

So, again, it does seem counterintuitive, but, you know, just anecdotally, for myself, I think about even probably three of my last six jobs were from people I kind of worked with once or knew, even many, many years ago, and they kind of alerted me to, like, hey, did you know about this job or maybe put in a reference for me. And, of course, then, you know, the job seeker still has to take care of that. But, you know, I wouldn’t have maybe been privy to that new information or those new opportunities. 

Mac Prichard:

So weak ties can help you get information that your closest acquaintances don’t have. They can also make referrals to employers and others who can help you in your search. What are other benefits that weak ties offer, Rob, in a job search? 

Rob Kim:

Well, I mean, it’s not too different from the two things you summed up. But, again, I really think it’s allowing you to see more of what’s out there. My favorite phrase in careers is you can’t be what you can’t see. So, to me, weak ties are simply increasing my knowledge of, like, again, the sort of roles out there.

The typical thing is, you know, what do you want to be? Is asked, and that has really influenced heavily by our strong ties. Right? When we’re growing up and what we see our family, friends, what sort of jobs that they’re doing. So, part of that is, I think, weak ties is a huge powerful way for us, throughout our careers, of like recognizing what that next step, that potential next opportunity is. Right? It’s like, oh, I didn’t know that was a job. Or I didn’t know you could get paid for that. 

Mac Prichard:

Why would someone who is a slight acquaintance or maybe someone you’re meeting for the first time through an informational interview help you in your job search, Rob? 

Rob Kim:

That’s a great question. So, you know, because this is almost like saying, why would this almost stranger help you? Right? And, I think it’s more of like you’re getting maybe advice or insight. I meant, you know, you mentioned informational interviews. I think a lot of people do like talking about maybe the work they’re doing or if you are building kind of a relationship where, even in that conversation, they feel like, hey, this is someone that, you know, I could help out. 

You’re trying to leverage a little bit of that, and I think about myself, like, when people reach out to me, like if it’s something specific, and I can do it, and it doesn’t cost me too much time, you know, I probably, you know, will say something or, hey, check this out. I think that another way you can think about weak ties is like, you could have a colleague at work; again, you’re not the closets of friends, but that, you know, at work, you have lots of weak ties. 

I tell university students all of the time that university is just a place to build these weak ties, and I, again, I think of, like, you’re just transferring information over, or you mentioned that, hey, I’m looking for maybe summer work. That might be like, oh, actually, I know somebody. Right? And so, I think if there’s a little bit of a giving nature to it. 

But, certainly, weak ties doesn’t mean you don’t know that person at all. So, I do want to make that distinction, and that Science kind of article does talk about, you know, you need almost like the just right amount of weak tie strength. It’s kind of like the goldilocks. Right? Not too strong, not too weak, just right. 

Mac Prichard:

So, it’s someone you have a connection to. Or, perhaps, can it also, Rob, be someone who you’re introduced to by a mutual acquaintance? Does that also constitute a weak tie? 

Rob Kim:

Yeah, I think part of the, you know, when you’re thinking about a weak tie approach, it is finding out what is that still common thread. Right? So, what is something that is a connector? So, yeah, a referral from someone else right away, you’re using that person, that shared common person, as that tie. But, you know, again, that’s why I will talk to people like, you know, having a robust alumni network. That’s another way to do that. 

And really, I think there’s so many other ways to find out these weak ties, and that’s what I think, you know, the strength of like a lot of our social media digital networks are. Like, you know, for me, growing up in Vancouver, I was very limited physically. Right? In terms of what I could find. The internet did not exist at that time. Right? And so the information had to come from, maybe, where I was working, the school, maybe it’s my dad’s friend at work, that sort of thing. But these days, I mean, the possibilities of weak ties, building those weak ties, you know, are huge and tremendous, and I think, sometimes, can be overwhelming for people. 

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk about who to approach and what to ask for in the second segment. But before we get there, Rob, I’m just curious. When you, in your work at the University, as the Career Strategist, you talk to students all of the time and alums as well. What stops people you work with at first from reaching out to their weak ties? 

Rob Kim:

I believe, like a lot of things in life, it’s actually fear, and how that translates, I think, in career, is also sometimes not building a sense of how we advocate for ourselves, Mac. So, you know, again, when you talk to someone about this concept of reaching out to someone that they kind of know, even if they do know, asking for help, advocating. I think that’s the number one thing that I see. 

It’s very hard for people to say, like, I want to ask for help or bother someone. Often too, I think for myself is like, who am I to even, like, ask this to, you know, kind of like a stranger in some ways? And, you know, I think I have to work with people all of the time about, you know, sometimes you don’t need that permission. You just have to realize that you might not get the response. But that’s okay. You have to have courage to put yourself out there to advocate. Even when dealing with weak ties. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, we’re gonna take a break, Rob. When we come back, I want to talk about how to approach weak ties, as well as how to identify the ones that are gonna be most helpful in your search. 

So stay with us. When we return, Rob Kim will continue to share his advice about why weak ties matter in your job search and how to use them. 

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Rob Kim. 

He’s a career strategist at the University of British Columbia.  

Rob is passionate about all things related to careers. And he was also named a LinkedIn Top Voice in 2022. 

He joins us today from Vancouver, in British Columbia, in Canada. 

Now, Rob, before the break, we were talking about why weak ties matter in your job search and how to use them. I want to talk about how you identify the weak links that are gonna be most useful to you in your search, as well as what to ask people for specifically. 

What’s your best advice, Rob, in your work with students and graduates about how to figure out, particularly if you have hundreds or even thousands of weak ties, where to start? And who’s gonna be most useful and helpful in your search? 

Rob Kim:

That’s a great question, Mac, and I’ll be really honest at the top. Ultimately, I don’t know. But that’s not helpful. I do then actually talk about a little bit of maybe some different strategies.

So, I love something called a values, skills, and interests table via Sidetable. That’s from Professional Coaching World there. And, you know, you can use that where you’re looking at what are your values. What are your skills or strengths? What are your interests? And then you can actually then try to map that out to think about, well, who are the people, places, and positions that kind of maybe represent that? 

And so, that’s a nice way to start identifying, you know, then you can go onto LinkedIn, for instance, and say, like, well, who has these values? Or who has these skills that I want to learn from? Or who needs these skills? So, I think that’s a way to start just kind of maybe helping you focus a little bit on, like, who to talk to. 

The other way I also think about it is, I like to get people to think about like Google Maps. And think about, like, what are your three filters for your kind of career? And allow you to just come up with some filters. 

So, I know that sounds funny, but if you like type in restaurants on Google Maps, that’s ultimately not a very good search. So, you might say, well, I think about proximity. I think about the price. I think about, even a type of cuisine. Well, I think that translates very well to like identifying the type of people you can talk to. 

It’s like, well, I want to look at people in Vancouver who are maybe making this much a money in this industry. And that allows me, again, to use that filter on LinkedIn to then maybe identify, you know, three people that I might want to talk to. And our brains really work well in threes, in terms of, like, just helping us not feel overwhelmed. 

Mac Prichard:

So, you have got those filters, and I love that comparison, Rob, of thinking about when you look for a restaurant, you just don’t type in restaurant. You’ve got some values and criteria. 

What’s the most popular criteria that you see the people you coach use when they’re figuring out who to approach among their weak ties for help? 

Rob Kim:

Funnily enough, I think a lot of times, it starts with proximity. Right? So even though they have maybe like ideals of what their manager looks like, like what they want their manager to be or the culture of the company, and, of course, you know, salary’s very important. But proximity’s an interesting way to start because it’s like saying, I want to be in this area. Now, of course, with remote and hybrid work, that changes a little bit. But interestingly enough, I think it’s proximity.

Mac Prichard:

And what about other criteria? There’s a place where you want to work. Does it also help to identify particular employers, positions? What has been your experience there?   

Rob Kim:

Yeah, so I really like going through, again, maybe the alumni search tool on LinkedIn, and we can then- and then sometimes I’ll ask, you know, what are the three companies that you would be interested in working tomorrow? And then we can go to the company page as well. We can actually then look at people, and then I think about like you’re just kind of digging a little bit deeper with your next set of filters. 

So, you know, it’s, again, looking at the positions that you are interested in, and then learning from that. There’s quite a lot of information that you can learn just from kind of that passive research, and then, maybe it’s then reaching out to that person, trying to connect, maybe sending that cold message or dm to maybe ask for some insight or advice. 

Mac Prichard:

So, know your values, your skills, and be clear about where you want to work, whether it’s the place or a particular employer, and then once you have that criterion figured out, I love that because it can be overwhelming. Can’t it, Rob? You sit down, you might have hundreds of LinkedIn connections, for example, or you could go to your university database, or maybe there’s a community group that has a directory, and you just see all of these names. 

Where do you get started? But the tool that you’re sharing allows you to narrow it down to a smaller universe of people. 

But once you’ve identified that universe, what’s the best way to approach them? You mentioned a cold email, and I’m sure you’ve had this experience, too. We all know people who say, well, I reached out to someone on LinkedIn or a fellow graduate, and I never heard back. 

When you think about the communications that are most effective and get a response, what do they look like? What are the common elements? 

Rob Kim:

Yeah, I think, first of all, to anyone listening, just make a hypothesis first. Because, again, if I knew the best way, I’d be pretty rich, Mac. Right? Like I could sell that formula, and we see people talking about these formulas, but I would offer first of all, like, hey, everybody just hypothesize what that could look like and then test it out, and what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to build up like a process because, ultimately, there’s gonna be a lot of rejection. Right? There’s gonna be a lot of nos or no responses, and I can’t let that deter or get me down. And so, I would kind of start there first. 

But then I think there are some simple points to think about when you’re reaching out that, you know, it’s like number one, keep it short. Number two, make sure the ask is like pretty specific, and, you know, I always think about, you’re already asking for their time; like, if you are already asking for their time, make sure that they don’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out what you’re asking. Right? So, you know, you want it to be something that they can act on even if they say no too, and so I think like short and specific. 

The third one is maybe, again, using that concept of a weak tie, like having a little bit of a connector to why you’re reaching out to them, the commonality, something that you share. It could be even something that you saw that they wrote about or that you appreciated. 

So, and, then, always doing it with like a sense of understanding of, like, I don’t expect you to respond. Right? And I think that can help, and I would be looking at, like, you have a ten percent success rate one week, a twenty, like, you know, I think if you’re hitting about a twenty percent success rate, that’s pretty good to me, but twenty percent sounds like a failure for a lot of us in any other context. 

Mac Prichard:

What about follow-up, Rob? You send the message off. It’s specific; you’re asking for something that’s easily understood, and you explain why you want to meet this person, as you suggested, and you get no response. What should you do next? How do you recommend following up? 

Rob Kim:

That’s a great question, Mac, and, you know, people will write a whole bunch of different things about, like, the number of times. But one way I would maybe frame it is, you know, I’m very busy. You’re very busy. And sometimes, we see a dm that we just don’t respond to that email. 

So, I think it’s okay to reach out again to just do a follow-up, and, you know, I keep the expectations really low. I just think there’s probably a diminishing return once you’re getting to like four or five. Now, I think you can reach out again with maybe a greater time period in between. But, you know, at some point, when I think about someone trying to convince me to meet or reaching out, that starts getting into maybe not respecting their boundaries, as well. 

But you’d be surprised how many people don’t do a follow-up where, sometimes, when they have done it with me, I’m like, oh yeah, I totally meant to get back to you. People, they’re not trying to be rude, you know, just one thing happens, and then next thing you know, you kind of forget about that email or that dm. 

Mac Prichard:

Once you have that meeting and you’ve had the conversation, what’s the best way to stay in touch with a weak tie both during your job search and after you land in your next position? 

Rob Kim:

Great question. I think there’s a multitude of ways you could do it. If I was just ideating right now, like, you know, three things, number one, I think it’s always great to like send a quick thank you follow-up. That would be something I would do all of the time. 

Number two, maybe it’s even just sharing something that you saw an article or, you know, some sort of concept that you know might be in their interest. That would be something that you might consider doing. 

And then, sometimes, it’s just simply reaching out and saying, hey, do you have time to meet up again? Or that sort of thing. So, I like employing a lot of different kinds of strategies, kind of test things out, and also keeps me learning, and I would encourage people to do the same. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Rob. Now, tell us, what’s next for you? 

Rob Kim:

For me, just again, more, you know, programming here at UBC. Just supporting the students and the facultative systems, and, you know, the alumni. And so, we’re gonna be wrapping up our mentorship program, which interestingly enough, this term is actually all dedicated to giving the students experiments of doing an informational interview because, again, that’s very scary for some people, and it’s actually a concept that not a lot of people actually know about. So, yeah, keep busy until the end of the term. 

Mac Prichard:

Well, terrific. Well, I know that you invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and I also know you host a wonderful podcast, Career Carrots. I hope listeners will check out that show, as well. 

Now, Rob, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why weak ties matter in your job search and how to use them? 

Rob Kim:

I hope listeners can take away that it’s okay if you don’t feel like you have the largest or strongest robust network. Weak ties are a way for you to recognize that, hey, if I have some acquaintances, those are still gonna be very powerful for my career, and with that, weak ties also mean you have to have the courage to put yourself out there and that I know, can be very difficult. But I want to encourage everyone listening that, you know, just focus on your weak ties, and those weak ties might surprise you down the road in terms of how to help you get that next job. 

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Elaine Lou Cartas.

She’s a speaker, podcaster, and coach who works with women of color and allies. 

Do you feel uncertain about your career, question your value at work, or experience low self-esteem? 

Elaine says these could be signs of an identity crisis. And it may be time to revisit how your work matches your goals and your values.

Join us next week when Elaine Lou Cartas and I talk about how to realign your career with what you want in life. 

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