How You Can Turn Weak Network Connections into Pre-qualified Prospects

The chances are that when it comes to your network, your direct connections’ connections are your key to getting a job. Recent research from the University of Chicago revealed that these so called “weak connections” are crucial and here is why:

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

I contend that the same rule applies for recruiters.

As far as I’m concerned, at least 40-50% of a recruiter’s effort should involve obtaining high quality referrals. This follows my “less is more” approach to sourcing. The point here is that if a recruiter can identify 20-25 high-quality, largely passive prospects and has excellent recruiting skills it’s quite easy to present 4-5 of them to the hiring manager and get one of them hired. The bigger point is that by spending more time with fewer and higher quality candidates quality of hire will increase with no degradation in time to fill or cost per hire.

The starting point for all of this is taking advantage of the weak connection concept. Here’s how LinkedIn can help.

1. Recognize that LinkedIn is a network of 400 million people, not just a database of names.

With LinkedIn Recruiter you can find weak connections by searching on your strong connection’s connections.

2. Metrics matter and referrals matter more.

Referrals call you back close to 100% of the time vs. 10-20% for a cold contact. 25 random names – regardless of the quality – will result in 2-3 conversations. 25 referrals will result in over 20 conversations.

3. Stop asking, “Who do you know who’s looking?”

When calling people you know it’s better to ask, “Who’s the best person you know who could handle (describe the biggest challenge of the job)?” All you then have to do is recruit the person.

4. Ask, “Who knows my ideal candidates?”

As you build your weak connection prospect list think about who people work with on a regular basis. For one search, I called a buyer at a big retailer to find a national accounts sales manager. For another I called product marketing managers to get referrals of great UX designers.

5. Expand your network by PERPing your ERP.

A proactive employee referral program involves connecting with people at your company who might have worked with your ideal candidate and asking them, “Who’s the best person you know doing (describe the job)?” For example, if you’re looking for a sales person call a field engineer or contact a cost accountant to find someone in manufacturing.

6. Cherry pick and pre-qualify the referrals.

Use achiever terms like awards or honors as you search for these weak connections to identify the strongest prospects. Then ask your connection if he or she would recommend the prospect and if the open job seemed appropriate. Obviously, you’ll only call those people who have been recommended. Since these people will call you back and they’re already pre-qualified all that’s left is convincing them your opening represents a career move.

7. Acquaintances are easier to talk with than strangers.

Calls to people who have been referred are more comparable to conversations with acquaintances. They’re more open and relaxed. Calls to people we don’t don’t know about the same job are stiff. Worse, it’s more difficult to determine if the person is qualified and interested.

8. It’s not about the money.

In order for any job to represent a career move it must offer the person a combined 30% increase in job stretch, more satisfying work, faster growth and more impact. It’s easier to present this idea in a conversation with an acquaintance or a referral than with a stranger.

9. Leverage your weak connections.

If the job doesn’t offer a 30% increase, connect with the person to get more referrals using the cherry picking and pre-qualification ideas above.

Minimizing cost per hire and reducing time to fill is a result of effective recruiting, not a goal. The goal is maximizing quality of hire. As I see it, having the ability to convert your weak connections into pre-qualified prospects is the inherent value of LinkedIn. When combined with a great job, a fully engaged hiring manager and a strong recruiter, less actually is more.