Facebook Finds Added Value For The Job Seeker
March 16, 2013

Facebook Finds Added Value For The Job Seeker

Alan McStravick for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Over the previous five years, the western nations of the world have found themselves in a down economy marked by increased levels of unemployment and stagnant consumer indices. The challenge many have faced is trying to regain employment after having experienced the loss of a job through company downsizing and layoffs. This major life change can be exceptionally stressful. But social networking giant Facebook, in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University, claims a recent study shows individuals who foster communication with close friends and family, via social networking, are far more likely to obtain employment than those who seek work by ℠friending´ new individuals in the hopes they might network them into a new company.

The study, entitled “Using Facebook after Losing a Job: Differential Benefits of Strong and Weak Ties” was published this month and has earned the ℠Best Paper Award´ at the 16th Annual ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (CSCW2013). Facebook engineer and data scientist Moira Burke, along with co-author professor Robert Kraut of Carnegie Mellon, focused their research on 3,000 Facebook users over a period of three months. They examined major life events, of which job loss was one, during the study period. The results show maintaining open and close ties with friends and family is far more beneficial, not only to your eventual personal health and well-being, but also to the chances you might secure employment.

The aim of the study wanted to focus on the types of relationships individuals chose to engage in while online and the support they received from those relationships. More importantly, the study wanted to determine if one was more likely to find a new job after talking with a close friend as opposed to a more ancillary relationship.

Burke and Kraut reported their findings support the necessity of seeking out stronger ties, like family and close friends, during a stressful life event. Not only are we more willing to talk intimately with them about challenges and stressors we are facing, but they, in turn, are far more likely to either mention a possible job opening or advocate on our behalf to an HR manager, in the hopes of securing employment.

This flies in the face of previous thinking, wherein sociologists have written about the “strength of weak ties” and how these interactions with acquaintances make it more likely you would hear about a potential job opening than through your close friends. The idea behind this hypothesis was that though your friends and family may be supportive, they limit you and your job search because they are more likely to travel in identical or nearly identical social circles.

Conversely, if you broaden your social circle with these weak tie acquaintances, you are increasing the size of the net you are throwing in your attempt at finding employment among a more diverse group with divergent social circles.

This sociological theory, originated for face-to-face contact, should hold true in the world of social networking, as well. What Burke and Kraut found, however, was just the opposite. Their research shows those who spoke more with their strong ties were two times more likely to find a job within three months. Those who spoke more often with weak ties were determined to be far less likely to find a job at all.

The authors postulate the reason for this is people don´t actually hear about potential job openings from their weak ties on Facebook. In a social network setting, one is probably less likely to share details about their joblessness with individuals they don´t know very well. However, the team states it is important to note their research never examined specifically what people discussed while on Facebook.

Strong ties, on the other hand, are perhaps more useful, not because they offer information on specific jobs, but rather because they can be effective motivators. They are more willing to put in effort to help you get a job. That effort might include offering you rides to interviews, seeking out potential job openings from their own contacts, forwarding your resume, providing a sympathetic ear when you need to vent about your frustrations or even hiring you themselves.

And the data collected supports this conclusion. Those Facebook users who maintained closer contact with their strong ties reported, month-to-month, increased social support and a reduction in overall stress. These findings were not shown among those users who communicated more often with weak ties.

The authors offer one caveat, however. They did mention the possibility that sharing the vulnerability of having lost a job with a loved one may, in fact, cause your stress levels to increase. The perceived distress of a job loss can be significantly worsened by those we love as they offer up unhelpful advice and perhaps push for too quick a recovery.

The way individuals communicate on Facebook, it was noted, remains practically the same for those who are employed as those who recently became unemployed. Those that lost their job weren´t necessarily changing their communication habits, only experiencing different outcomes from the same kinds of communication.

According to Burke and Kraut, their findings present a double-edged sword for the recently jobless. But they claim it mustn´t necessarily be this way.  While the data show that obtaining a job is helped by maintaining your strong tie relationships, it also shows sharing with these closest friends and family may increase feelings of stress. The authors contend, however, that perhaps just knowing this phenomenon exists could play an important role in helping to minimize that stress.