Motivation vs. Relevance: Using Strong Ties to Find a Job in Urban China

35 Pages Posted: 9 May 2011 Last revised: 8 Sep 2014

See all articles by Elena Obukhova

Elena Obukhova

Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University

Date Written: December 15, 2011


While the idea that contacts matter in finding a job is intuitively appealing, we still do not know — after decades of research — how and why strong ties benefit job seekers. To resolve this confusion, we need to theorize how specific characteristics of ties are related to the mechanisms that make job search through contacts effective. We have reasons to expect that, while a contact’s motivation influences the likelihood that a job seeker receives an offer, her homophily with the job seeker on occupation and other job-relevant attributes influences the quality of the offer. The use of strong ties among university students to find jobs in China provides a unique opportunity to empirically isolate the relationship between contact characteristics and the mechanisms through which contacts benefit the job seeker. I tested my hypotheses with data on both the successful and unsuccessful job searches of 478 graduates of China’s flagship universities, who, as first-time job seekers, primarily used strong ties. Survey results are consistent with my hypotheses: Job seekers who used strong ties to look for jobs had more offers — but not better offers — than those who used only formal methods.

Keywords: Social networks, job search, strength-of-strong-ties, within-individual methodology, China

Suggested Citation

Obukhova, Elena, Motivation vs. Relevance: Using Strong Ties to Find a Job in Urban China (December 15, 2011). Social Science Research, Forthcoming; MIT Sloan Research Paper No. 4898-11. Available at SSRN:

Elena Obukhova (Contact Author)

Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University ( email )

1001 Sherbrooke St. West
Montreal, Quebec H3A1G5 H3A 2M1
5143985919 (Phone)

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