Facebook Proves that It's Less than Six Degrees to a Job Connection

Attention job seekers: The world is smaller than we thought, according to research published by Facebook and the University of Milan, which also provides a twist on the theory, “Six Degrees of Separation,” published in 1967.

At last, there’s some science behind job networking. This theory, based on a 1929 short story by Frigyes Karinthy, posits that everyone on earth is no more than six steps away, by way of introduction, to any other person on earth. In turn, the theory became the subject of the 1990 play written by John Guare and in 1993, a movie, starring Donald Sutherland, Will Smith and Stockard Channing.

Popularized by these performances, the “Six Degrees” theory pervaded popular culture, giving rise to a trivia game, called the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” which works on the concept that every actor in Hollywood has a connection with Kevin Bacon, through roles in film or commercials, within at most six connections.

The newest experiment used a sampling of the 721 million Facebook users to determine the average number of connections between random individuals. The results showed that instead of six degrees separating one randomly selected individual in the world from another, it’s closer to 4.74 degrees. In the United States, that number is even smaller—just 4.37 degrees.

What does this mean for the job seeker? For one thing, the result of the experiment underscores the importance of maintaining and building on your network, whether you’re currently looking for work or not. For another, it proves that those connections critical to your job search are closer than you think.

For each connection you make in your network, the closer you are to connecting with someone who may have the job you’re looking for. Further supporting the need to build and nurture extended connections through networking, the employment situation over the last few years has become increasingly competitive.

Traditional means of gaining employment—answering employment ads and contacting staffing companies—have become less effective, mainly because the competition for jobs has elevated to such levels that candidates need an edge, such as a recommendation from a former co-worker or friend of a friend just to get an interview. Add to that the fact that up to 80 percent of job openings are not published anywhere, and you can see the benefit of knowing someone who just happens to know someone else.

Networking might seem intimidating to those new to the game. If you take a hint from the Facebook experiment, making a new connection in your job search could be as easy as sending a friend request to a friend of one of your friends on Facebook or connecting with someone in the 2nd level circle of your connections on LinkedIn.

Of course, you don’t want to stop there. Joining a special interest group or signing up for a mailing list focused on your area of expertise are other great ways to make new connections. By taking advantage of this new development, the chances of getting a great job from one or more of your connections are better than ever.

But once you have the job, continue your networking efforts. New hires can benefit greatly from creating connections within their new employer’s company.

The simple act of introducing yourself to others who work outside of your immediate department or group could set the stage for getting information about other opportunities within the company, or if you find yourself looking for another job, for whatever reason. Networking has become the job seeker’s first and best tool for locating a job in this competitive climate. Knowing that the connections we have are potential keys to finding the right job—including those just a degree or two away—makes forging new connections a little easier and more profitable. Kevin Bacon, eat your heart out.

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