The Role of Information and Influence in Social Networks: Examining the Association between Social Network Structure and Job Mobility

Article excerpt

SINCE THE PUBLICATION OF MARK GRANOVETTER'S ARTICLE "The Strength of Weak Ties" (1973) and his book Getting a Job (1974), researchers have examined the role social networks play in the job mobility process. Granovetter's finding that a majority of his respondents found jobs through "informal" means such as friends or relatives led him to theorize the importance of "weak ties" in finding a better job. He argued that weak ties are important in job mobility because they serve as "bridges" between networks, allowing individuals to connect to others who are not already in their network. Through these connections, individuals are able to find out about jobs that they may not have heard about through "formal" means and through their strong ties.

While Granovetter emphasizes how weak ties can lead to new information about better jobs, Nan Lin argues that weak ties are important because they can connect job seekers to influential others who have resources (1982, 1990). The finding that the occupational status of a contact is associated with the occupational status of the job a person ends up taking is viewed by Lin and others as indicating that highly prestigious contacts help people get more prestigious job (Lin, Ensel, and Vaughn 1981; Lin, Vaughn, and Ensel 1981; Flap and De Graaf 1986; De Graaf and Flap 1988; Marsden and Hurlbert 1988; Wegener 1991). Weak ties, therefore, facilitate job mobility by connecting individuals to others, who, because of their resources, can be more influential in helping people get a job (Lin 1982, 1990).

Though both Granovetter and Lin argue that weak ties are important because of how they connect people to "unlike" others, their research and much subsequent research (Marsden and Hurlbert 1988; Lin, Ensel, and Vaughn 1981; Lin, Vaughn, and Ensel 1981; Flap and DeGraaf 1986; De Graaf and Flap 1988; Wegener 1991) doesn't directly examine a person's network structure but instead focuses on the strength of dyadic ties. But with the work of Ronald Burt (1992) and others (e.g., Bian 1997; Podolny and Baron 1997), a more direct test of the importance of social networks for job mobility was developed using network analysis methods to measure the presence of "relationships of nonredundancy between two contacts" (Burt 1992: 18) or what Burt calls structural holes. A contact is considered to be nonredundant if he or she shares no other ties with other contacts in a person's immediate social network. The tie between a person and a nonredundant contact spans the structural hole that would otherwise be present between the two networks. According to Burt, spanning structural holes through nonredundant contacts can be very advantageous (Burt 1992).

While Burt (1992) and others (Podolny and Baron 1997) have shown that the presence of nonredundant contacts who fill structural holes within a person's social network facilitates job mobility, there continues to be a good deal of debate about how nonredundant contacts affect job mobility. This article examines the role that two mechanisms could play in mediating the relationship between structural holes and job mobility: information and influence. In the next section we discuss how network ties can connect people to diverse others who have either information or influence, and how both information and influence can help people get better jobs.

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Information and Influence

NONREDUNDANT TIES ARE HYPOTHESIZED TO CONNECT PEOPLE with diverse others (Burt 1992). If people have only redundant connections within their network, then the information they receive from one network member is likely to be no different from the information that they receive from another network member. In contrast, nonredundant ties bridge people into other networks that include persons who have alternative sources of information. This should give people who have more nonredundant ties in their networks access to more unique pieces of information than those people who do not have nonredundant ties (Granovetter 1973, 1974; Burt 1992). …