MIT Research Shows Most Don't Leverage Professional Networks Appropriately
New research from MIT shows that most don't understand their professional network, which ultimately hinders professional and career development.
The research, conducted by Ray Reagans, Associate Professor of Organization Studies at MIT Sloan School of Management, showed that individuals with a high need for closure (NFC) – people who strongly prefer order and predictability - are more likely to assume that socially similar people are connected to each other and that their network connections are balanced, i.e., that their friends are also friends with each other.
“In order for networks to be useful, you need to accurately see how your networks are connected,” says Reagans. “People with high NFC tend to overuse heuristics – educated guesses based on past experience – and are therefore much less likely to benefit from networks. It could also hinder their careers. Even if they know what kinds of contacts are valuable, their inability to accurately see relationships will limit their ability to select the right contacts.”
The research has some interesting implications for how jobseekers and employees ought to use their networks to find employment or advance their careers.
“People with high NFC may be using their time ineffectively,” he says. “We all tend to make decisions with heuristics. They’re efficient shortcuts that often lead to good decisions. But warning: sometimes they get in the way.”
In a series of three experiments, Reagans and his colleagues - Francis Flynn and Lucia Guillory, both of Stanford - looked at how people with high NFC judge social and professional relationships. In each experiment, participants completed a survey that measured their NFC, rating their agreement with statements like: “I don’t like situations that are uncertain.”
In the first experiment, they tested a cluster of MBAs who’d been enrolled in a business program together for six months. Participants filled out a questionnaire that assessed their relationships with classmates, as well as their perceptions of the relationships between others in the class. The team found that people with a high NFC tended to perceive social ties where they didn’t exist, and assume that their contacts knew each other.Continued on the next page