Here Are Your Most Important Connections on LinkedIn

You've heard it a million times: You never know which connection might turn into your next job lead. Career-oriented social networks, especially LinkedIn, often become sprawling lists of every person you shared an office with, met at a conference, or made a webinar you listened to during lunch. Lots of people do in fact find jobs or freelance and contract work through LinkedIn, but not because they've played a numbers game. New research confirms that when it comes to networking, quality of connections generally wins out over quantity.

Researchers in business and information management studied survey data from 424 users of online networks like LinkedIn and job-hunting services such as Monster.com, as well as in-person networking and other traditional job-hunting methods. They wanted to see which factors contributed most to a successful job search. What they found backs up the advice of college career service offices the world over: The best results came from networking with people you know and have strong connections with.

Job boards provided the most leads, but LinkedIn can't be discounted. People with more LinkedIn connections did have a slightly higher rate of finding position postings, but having many "weak" connections actually meant a slight decrease in landing interviews and job offers.

One theory for this is that weak connections don't create strong incentives to go the extra mile. "[F]or leads to convert into interviews, your connections will most likely be required to conduct follow up on their end, such as make phone calls or provide recommendations," said researcher Rahul Telang. "If the connection is weak, these individuals may be less likely to undertake these efforts."

It makes sense that close connections would mean better outcomes in your job search. Someone who knows you and knows your work is not only more willing to go to bat for you, but can spot positions for which you're a particularly good fit. "Networking" has become a catchall term that encompasses a lot of relationships, but at its core, it's always been about who you really, deeply know.