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Strong and Weak Ties in the Job Market


Sandra Smith at Berkeley is trying to uncover why weak ties lead to novel job opportunities. After interviewing 157 workers of various races and job levels at a public university, she reached an interesting conclusion. As it turns out, people don’t generally refer their close friends to jobs for two reasons: 1) fear of looking bad if it doesn’t work out; and 2) they are more likely to know the weaknesses of their close friends and believe this could interfere with being a good worker. Overall, the goal of the person referring friends seems to be to better their reputation in their job.

As we learned in class, a person in a social network is more likely to receive new information from a weak tie rather than a strong one. In the job market, this is also true and can be attributed to close friends leading one to job opportunities which one already knew about, while friends that are not so close tend to lead to jobs that one may not have heard about. But there seems to be more to it than just this, according to the Sandra’s research. Let’s assume that person A is asked by their boss B, to refer a new employee. It can be assumed that A and B have a strong tie with each other, and thus according 1) and 2) above, referring a close friend C might make A and B’s tie a weak one, or break it altogether. So it seems that all ties aren’t valued equally, since the tie between A and B is a much more important one than A and C. This means that a tie between B and C would never develop. It would be interesting to have a social network model which would account for this prioritization of ties and one could observe which ties are formed (a person referred to a certain job) in such a model.




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September 2012