Thanks to technology like LinkedIn's new easy-application feature and the hundreds of job matching platforms, applying for a job is easier than ever. Once you've identified your interest and potential alignment, submission is only a few survey questions, a resume upload, and a click away. However, the abundance of tools making jobseeking easier are not necessarily making it more effective. In fact, it may be harder than ever before to differentiate yourself from the thousands of other online applicants, as seen in this article about a jobseeker who actually built a bot to troll postings and create customized applications to thousands of jobs at once. Spoiler alert: even his customized and thorough solution didn't work, because his materials still weren't being read.

That's because, by some estimates, like a survey from this hiring consultant, over 80% of jobs are found through direct introductions, and not through cold postings. The problem is finding those introductions. If you're switching sectors, industries, locations, or if you've been out of the workforce, the odds are that your network won't be super helpful in leveraging their connections to help get your application to the top of the pile.

The solution? Weak ties. This [pretty dense] 1973 Stanford study argued, long before the advent of LinkedIn and Twitter, that weak ties were actually more important in the maintenance of communities and inclusion than strong ties. That still rings true today, but we now have all sorts of tools and strategies that can help specifically cultivate those weak ties into an army of advocates for you. Here's a few thoughts to get you started:

  1. Most obvious: Send an email to "your people" with some specific parameters of what you're looking for, and a targeted ask.  Pull together (and blind copy) a list of your close friends, cousins, or whoever has your best interests in mind, and give them a descriptor of the kinds of organizations and roles you're most interested in. Ex: "I'd love to hear about any interesting medium-sized apparel companies in your orbit who might be looking for communications support, specifically around brand strategy. I'd be happy to talk to any connections you think could be worthwhile for me to get a sense of the current landscape and big players in the space."
  2. Less obvious: Join relevant LinkedIn groups, and message fellow members to ask who they think the most salient people or companies are for you to look at. Rather than asking a stranger (or in this case, a like-minded, but very weak connection) to connect you directly, try asking them for something more general that calls on their specific area of expertise. People love giving advice, and if it's a pretty small ask, they're more likely to respond. Try: "Hi X, Since we're both members of the Impact Investing Forum, I wanted to see if you have suggestions for the 3 companies you think are most innovative in their investment strategy this year-- I'd love to hear what you think is top of mind, since I'm in the process of orienting myself in the sector!"
  3. Least obvious: Join a network or platform that will advocate on your behalf. Organizations like Après (for women re-entering the workforce) or Rework are in the business of talking directly to employers, so they advocate on behalf of those who apply through their platform to help ensure that those employers read their applications. For any industry or sector, there are networking groups or professional associations, and many of them have job boards. If they do, try asking if they'd forward your application along with an endorsement. Ex: "I'm excited to apply for the role you posted at X organization-- thanks for facilitating my discovery of such a cool opportunity. Please find attached my resume and cover letter-- would you mind passing this along to your contact there? My experience in merchandising and interest in design make me a good fit, and your outreach might help ensure that my application gets reviewed. I appreciate your advocacy on my behalf!"

Though it may feel a bit awkward, cultivating weak ties can make a HUGE difference. In the last year, I've made over 80 direct introductions for our fellowship program alumnae to potential employers, volunteer opportunities, investing networks, and more. It doesn't only help them, but it also gives me an excuse to reach out to several of the clients and partners in our network and offer them the "service" of putting them in touch with someone who is likely well-suited for their role. It's a positive touchpoint on all sides, and a win-win-win that hopefully also results in a good fit and new partnership for two of the parties.

Think of one way you could strengthen your weak ties this week, and dedicate less time to online applications and more time to direct networking. The investment will pay off, and you'll create a new professional network along the way!