The Strength of Weak Ties in MBA Job Search: A Within–Person Test

Jason Greenberg, Roberto M. Fernandez

Sociological Science, May 18, 2016
DOI 10.15195/v3.a14

Whether and how social ties create value has inspired substantial research in organizational theory, sociology, and economics. Scholars generally believe that social ties impact labor market outcomes. Two explanatory mechanisms have been identified, emphasizing access to better job offers in pecuniary terms and the efficacy of non-redundant information. The evidence informing each theory, however, has been inconsistent and circumstantial. We test predictions from both models using a rich set of job search data collected from an MBA student population, including detailed information about search channels and characteristics of job offers. Importantly, we can compare offers made to the same student derived via different search channels while accounting for industry, function, and non-pecuniary characteristics. We find that contrary to conventional wisdom, search through social networks typically results in job offers with lower total compensation (-17 percent for referrals through strong ties and -16 percent for referrals via weak ties vs. formal search). However, our models also show that students are considerably more likely to accept offers derived via weak ties. They do so because they are perceived to have greater growth potential and other non-pecuniary value. On balance, our tests are consistent with Granovetter’s argument that networks provide value by facilitating access to information that is otherwise difficult to obtain, rather than providing greater pecuniary compensation.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Jason Greenberg: Leonard N. Stern School of Business, New York University

Roberto M. Fernandez: MIT Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Acknowledgements: This paper was presented in a symposium at the annual American Sociological Association meeting honoring the fortieth anniversary of Mark Granovetter’s classic Getting a Job.We thank the organizing members of that symposium (Nina Bandelj and Emilio Castilla), co-panelists, and audience members for useful feedback. Thanks are also due audiences at Michigan-ICOS and NYU, Gino Cattani, and Mark Granovetter. All the usual disclaimers apply. Please send questions or comments to Jason Greenberg (

  • Citation: Jason Greenberg and Roberto M. Fernandez.  2016.“The Strength of Weak Ties in MBA Job Search:  A Within–Person Test.” Sociological Science 3: 296-316
  • Received: January 4, 2016
  • Accepted: January 27, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v3.a14

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