In addition to the types of people in your network, you need to consider the extent to which you know people in your network.
In Getting A Job, author and sociologist Mark Granovetter found that 56% of people found jobs through personal contacts. Not surprising. After all, it is not “what you know, but who you know.”
The surprise was that the personal contacts used to obtain these jobs were not family or friends – “close ties”. Rather most could be classified as “weak ties”. 55.6% reported that they saw their “job-producing” contact only occasionally and 27.8% saw their contact only rarely.
So, when it comes to job hunting – or finding clients – weak ties tend to be more important than strong ties.
Why? Because close ties tend to occupy the same world as you do. A spouse or close friend may share many of the same network contacts as you and is likely to only refer or connect you to people you already know.
Mere acquaintances, or “weak ties”, on the other hand, are much more likely to know people that you do not. While you might share a small overlap in networks, most of the people they know are completely unknown to you.
The take-away? Do NOT rely solely on close ties to fortify your network. A better means is to associate with people you don’t know well – the person from work that you know casually from meetings or trips on the elevator; the person you see every week at church but, beyond a name, you know little else about.
From a networking perspective, the most valuable people aren’t those closest to you. In fact, the more people you know who aren’t close to you, the stronger your position becomes.
In summary, the quality of your relationships matters and one measure of quality is the strength or weakness of the tie. Having lunch with your long-time best buddy can be fun but does little to build your network. If you want to build your network, have lunch with someone you know … but not that well.