Effective Networking: Assumptions About Your Contacts Can Hinder Your Job Search

IT professionals who prize order and predictability, and possess a high need for closure are likely making erroneous assumptions about their networks--assumptions that could seriously hamper their job searches, according to research from MIT.

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Tue, April 27, 2010

CIO — Everyone knows that networking is the most effective way to land a new job, but not everyone uses their network effectively in their job search. It's not necessarily because people are shy, and thus reluctant to ask others for help.

It's because certain types of people fail to see the connection—or lack of connection—among individuals in their network, and consequently, they make erroneous assumptions about their network contacts, says Ray Reagans, associate professor of organization studies at MIT Sloan School of Management.

In 2008 and 2009, Reagans, along with Stanford research partners Francis Flynn and Lucia Guillory, conducted three studies designed to find out whether certain people could accurately assess the structure of their networks. Their work built on research conducted by Ronald Burt, a professor of sociology and strategy at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Burt's research suggested that the structure of one's network—that is, whether or not the individuals in one's network know each other—may be more important than the size of the network.

"Most of us conclude that having a good network is about who you know. If you're connected to the right people, you'll do well," says Reagans, adding that that belief is only partly right. "Burt put forth this idea that what really matters is not who you know, but whether or not your contacts are connected to each other. He said you're well-connected when you have contacts who don't know each other."

Those job seekers who have contacts in their network who don't know each other provides them with "information advantages," says Reagans.

"If you were to ask your friends to help you look for a job, if they all know each other, they'll all be searching in the same place," says the MIT professor, citing Burt. "If your friends don't know each other and you asked them to help, they'd be searching in multiple places, distinct places. Burt is describing a network that gives you more range or exposure."

Reagans, Flynn and Guillory wanted to know if people could even perceive their networks—and the connections they contain—accurately.

Reagans and his partners found that individuals with a high need for closure, order and predictability can't accurately read the structure of their networks. In fact, they're more likely to read structure into their networks where it doesn't exist: They tend to assume that their friends are friends with each other and that socially similar people (people who share the same race, gender or age demographic) are also connected to each other. (Sound familiar? Do you tend to make the same assumptions? ISTJ IT professionals certainly prize closure, order and predictability.)

"People who have a high need for closure are more likely to assume that two people [in their network] who don't know each other are connected," says Reagans. "When two colleagues don't know each other, it doesn't make sense to them. People with a high need for closure can't see the structural holes in their networks. They force a structure on their network when it isn't there."

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