Job creation policies need to reflect role of networks
The statistical research I conducted shows who you know makes a substantial difference, although what you know matters too
Miriam Hederman O’Brien (left) and Colm Kelly (right) present the Foundation for Fiscal Studies research prize for 2013 to Gerard Brady of Ibec
It’s often said it’s “not what you know, but who you know” that counts when getting a job. But is there much truth to this conventional wisdom?
On the face of it this seems to be a common experience. Many of us know (or are) someone who found a job because they knew the right person. Large companies such as LinkedIn have made it their business to connect you to your “professional network” with the aim of improving your employability.
Ibec research shows 87 per cent of employers use referrals by staff to fill non-graduate positions and it is seen by the majority of businesses who use this method as very effective. Indeed, international surveys show that about half of people found out about their current job from someone they know, while less than one in 10 found out from private or public employment agencies.
The EU’s 2012 European Quality of Life Survey showed that 45 per cent of Irish people indicated they would first ask people they knew for help finding a job, compared to 38 per cent indicating they would go to public or private agencies. This is even more important for young people, with 57 per cent of those under 24 saying they would first turn to people they knew. The question remains, however, do these networks make any difference?
This topic has been the subject of much inquiry. International research has shown that individuals with access to “better” social networks may be able to use their connections to access opportunities and information which would otherwise be unattainable to them.
The most famous research on the subject, Mark Granovetter’s The Strength of Weak Ties, suggests that it’s not your close friends and family that matter when it comes to finding a job, but your “weak ties”, in other words your acquaintances. Unlike people close to you, your acquaintances are likely to have access to information about jobs which you do not.
Statistical research* I conducted, using representative data on more than 2,000 Irish adults, showed that who you know does indeed make a substantial difference, although what you know matters too.
The study indicates that participation in social groups such as sports clubs, community organisations and other networks where you are likely to meet people outside your close friends and family, increases significantly your chances of finding a job.
These findings may seem obvious on the face of it, but they are not really reflected in the way in which the State currently assists jobseekers. This may have serious implications for fiscal policy given the fact that we are spending €1.2 billion a year on employment and training supports.