Exploit Your Weak Connections to Find Better Jobs and Hire Better People

I advocate a less is more approach for finding jobs and candidates to fill these jobs. So whichever side of the hiring desk you’re sitting on, my advice is pretty much the same: Don’t waste your time applying for jobs and stop posting boring jobs. Instead think “less is more," i.e., less high tech and more high touch.

For job seekers this means developing a short target list of companies you want to work at and then work like heck meeting the decision makers. For recruiters it means developing a short list of ideal candidates and then recruit the heck out of them. Exploiting your weak connections is how it’s done.

Fast Company ran an article this past week on the importance of using your Facebook friends for finding a new job. It’s probably better to use your LinkedIn direct connections since with some of the premium accounts you can see the names of your connections’ connections. These are your weak connections.

The Fast Company article referred to another article in the Journal of Labor Economics describing the importance of both strong and weak connections. This one conclusion summarizes their importance:

Weak ties are important collectively because of their quantity, but strong ties are important individually because of their quality.

The point for job seekers is the need to tap into their strongest connections to get leads for open jobs from people they know. For years I’ve contended that networking is not meeting as many people as you can. Too many job seekers fall into this trap. Instead networking is getting referred by people who can vouch for your performance to their connections who have open opportunities. For job candidates I recommend implementing this type of 60/20/20 job hunting program:

  • Don’t spend more than 20% of your effort responding to job postings. More important, rather than applying directly for the jobs you find of most interest, use your weak connections to get introduced to the hiring manager or department head.
  • Spend another 20% making sure your LinkedIn profile can be found and that it’s compelling. Try reverse engineering what recruiters do to find resumes. When it’s found it will be scanned for only a few seconds so you need to make sure the most important stuff stands out and yells, “Call me!”
  • Spend most of your time developing a master list of your weak connections. Most jobs are filled before they’re posted on some job board mostly through referrals and internal promotions. This is where weak connections can be of most value. Here are some guerilla job hunting ideasyou can use to find jobs in this very big pre-public job market.

Recruiters can do the same thing to find great candidates. For recruiters I recommend a 40/40/20 candidate hunting program. Here’s the quick summary:

  • Limit your job postings to no more than 20% of your total effort. But forget the cookie-cutter job descriptions. Instead prepare compelling posts that tell stories, highlight critical job needs and capture the ideal candidate’s intrinsic motivators. Rather than applying, invite people to present their qualifications in some unusual way.
  • Spend 40% of your effort developing a short list of highly qualified prospects. In my opinion sourcing is not finding as many fully skills-qualified active candidates as possible. It’s finding a few (15-20) high potential candidates who need to be recruited. They’re all listed on LinkedIn and you can find them using clever Boolean. Then use a multi-tiered campaign mindset (multiple emails, messaging, calling and connections) to connect and convert 60-70% of these people into potential candidates.
  • Spend the other 40% finding remarkable weak connections. Using LinkedIn Recruiter you can search on your direct connections’ connections finding ideal prospects. Then ask your connections to pre-qualify these people. Since these people will call you back and you know they’re already qualified all you have to do is recruit them by offering a 30% non-monetary increase.

Whether you’re looking for a better job or looking for better people you need to build a big network of weak connections. It starts by finding nodes – these are people who are connected to the right jobs and the right people. For example, vendors and sales reps know customers. Accountants and marketing people know engineers and people in operations. And project managers and consultants know everyone else. So whichever side of the desk you’re on, don’t sell the job or the resume; sell the discussion and build a network of weak connections. Take one step at a time while doing this. It’s ultimately how you’ll get where you really want to go.