What is “degrees of separation”?

LinkedIn has helped popularize the concept of Degrees of Separation, but I understand that there are a lot of people that don’t quite get it, or the importance of it. I was chatting with a friend of mine on Saturday and he began to talk about degrees of separation that had nothing to do with the way that I understand it. So, for the benefit of job seekers, I’ll attempt to explain what it is and why it is important.

The concept of degrees of separation is simple – here is an example: My neighbor John is 1 degree of separation from me. I tell him that I’m looking for a job at Intel, he says he knows someone (Eric) there, and offers to introduce me. Eric is now 2 degrees of separation from me – as he was introduced to me by John – who is 1 degree of separation from me.

So basically, everyone that you know or meet personally, not through someone else, will be 1 degree of separation from you. If you they introduce someone else to you then that person – a new network contact – would be 2 degrees of separation from you. And so on and so on. In JibberJobber when you add a new network contact there is a place where you indicate how you met this person. This will automatically calculate the degrees of separation for each person in your network.

Ok, that is pretty simple. Here are two reasons why it is important:

First, “the experts” say that you won’t get job leads from contacts that are 1 or 2 degrees of separation from you. In other words, it is not common that your best friend or family or whatever will get you a job lead. However, they may know someone (2nd degree) that knows someone (3rd degree) that knows someone (4th degree) who would have a job lead.

Second, if I were your job coach and we met weekly, I’d want to know how your network is expanding. You may meet a lot of new people, which is great, but you have to ask people that you already know (all of these 1st and 2nd degree people) who they know, and begin to build depth. A savvy career coach should be able to notice right away whether you are focusing in the right direction or not (some people need to focus on width while others need to focus on depth).

The point is, you need to know what your network looks like (how wide and how deep) because if you are focusing on going wide (getting more 1st degrees) and not going deep at all (3rd and 4th degrees) then it may take longer to get to someone that has a job lead… so say the experts 🙂 Of course what you do with each contact is a completely different topic…

One quick note before I end this post – and this is just my opinion – just because you have a connection with someone in LinkedIn that has 15 connections, that does not mean that YOU have all of those connections also. I think that this would give you a false reading of your network. Don’t use JibberJobber to just list all of your network contacts – put real contacts in when you have some kind of relationship with them, or when you intend to begin a relationship.