First Impression of Your Professional Social Network in a Company

June 14, 2016

There are many factors that affect your career within an organization. Communication skills are important for all jobs; technical skills are critical for tech jobs; a positive attitude may boost your success, and so on. Not only do personal skills and attitudes influence your career, but social relationships also matter. You can easily imagine that a healthy relationship with your manager is crucial for your day-to-day life as well as your growth within the organization. In addition to the first-order relationship with the direct manager, there has been extensive research about the important role social networking plays in your professional life. Your social network within your organization can affect your individual performance [1,2], personal regards [3], and employee turnover [4].

While personal skills, attitudes and social networks are always important, the first impression when you join a new organization is regarded as particularly important. There are many articles about the importance of making a great first impression. To summarize those articles, the other employees tend to be biased to the first impression they receive about a new employee because they do not have any prior experience with him or her.

Your personal skills are observed through your first task. Your attitudes and behaviors on the first few days provide the most lasting impression of your characteristics to the other employees. While good first impressions do not necessarily determine the success of your career in the new organization, they are helpful. For example, when you perform well on your first task, you verify your ability to your new boss and team members, reach the next level of work, and so on. However, if you have some trouble with your first task, your boss does not have pre-existing data verifying that you are better than that. You may need more time to prove your ability to reach the next level of work.

The importance of making a good initial impression is emphasized for the reasons mentioned above, but we are still missing something here. What about the first impression of your social networks — one of the key factors for your successful career in the organization? As “the first impression of networks” sounds awkward, let’s rephrase the question: How important is your initial social network for your future within an organization?

We (Atef Chaudhury, Myunghwan Kim and Mitul Tiwari) recently published a paper [5] studying the relationship between a new employee’s initial social networks and their future status, such as their internal network size. We analyzed the top 500 companies (by average degree) and their new employees in 2013 from LinkedIn data, which include more than one million members and one hundred thousand new employees. We relied on information provided by users themselves (companies, titles, connections, etc.), but believe that the top 500 companies reflect the most engaged members and industries so their information is reliable. Moreover, for more reliable analysis, we selected the new employees who ended up with at least 20 connections after 1.5 years since they joined the new organizations. We then regarded the first 10 connections as their initial social networks in the new organizations, and measured the status after 1.5 years of their service time. There has been a lot of research about social networks in the organizations, but to our best knowledge, this work studied the largest number of companies, and new employees.

First, we observed that the initial social networks of new employees are related to their future social networks in terms of size and diversity. Here the size of a network is defined as the number of LinkedIn connections. The diversity of network indicates the diversity in functional roles your connections have, such as HR, engineering, sales, and so forth.

  • Network size comparison, first 10 connections

To describe each detail, the left plot depicts the relationship between the network size of a new employee’s first 10 connections (x-axis) and the network size of the new employee after 1.5 years of service time (y-axis). As the size and networking behavior is different in each organization, both x-axis and y-axis metrics are normalized, and then aggregated over all the companies. This plot shows that you tend to end up with a large social network when you are initially connected with employees who already have large social networks inside the organization. This plot is understandable because employees with large social networks can introduce you to more people through social events or random social interactions in communal spaces like the kitchen area. Similarly, in the right plot, the diversity of the initial 10 connections’ networks (x-axis) seems correlated with the network diversity of a new employee after 1.5 years. The same argument can hold here: your initial connections can help you with diversely expanding your network through social events and interactions.

We also found some evidence about the phenomena depicted in these plots. In short, people are more likely to grow their social networks like a snowball rather than form burst connections through random social events. In this process, people who play an agent role can boost your social network size and diversity within the organization. We omitted the technical details here, so please refer to our paper for the details.

While our above findings are with respect to network status between your initial connections and your future status, we also discovered the relationships between your initial connections and retention rate, which apparently seem irrelevant with respect to the network. In this research, we used the probability that new employees leave their organizations in 1.5 years. This metric is also normalized per company and compared with the network size and the seniority of your initial 10 connections.

  • First Impressions of network size, second comparison

From the left plot, as your initial connections have larger social networks within the organization, you are less likely to leave the company within 1.5 years. From the right plot, as you are initially connected with more senior employees than you, you are also less likely to leave the company. What does this imply? We believe that if you are connected with individuals who are already well established in the organization then they might help you with getting engaged in the organization faster or better, thereby leading to high retention.

Our findings do not claim the causality that your initial connections necessarily affect your future status and retention. However, most comments we received at our poster presentation in WWW’16 conference are “it make sense” and “this is intuitive,” because our findings are aligned with typical advice like: “Meet and Network with Key People in Organization & Profession” [6]. Our main contribution is to verify such intuitive but subjective belief through big data.

Furthermore, based on our analysis, we conjecture that the social networks and seniority of the manager and senior team members, who are likely to be initial connections, influence your career growth in the organization you newly join. All the analysis we performed in the paper is consistent with this conjecture, but it is not conclusive yet. While leaving the verification of our conjecture for future work, we finish the article by repeating our arguments with the proverb: “First impressions are the most lasting.”

1. R. S. Burt. Structural holes: The social structure of competition. Harvard University Press, 2009

2. R. Reagans and E. W. Zuckerman. Networks, diversity, and productivity: The social capital of corporate r&d teams. Organization Science, 12(4):502-517, 2001

3. W. C. Carter and S. L. Feld. Principles relating social regard to size and density of personal networks, with applications to stigma. Social Networks, 26(4):323-329, 2004.

4. T. H. Feeley, J. Hwang, and G. A. Barnett. Predicting employee turnover from friendship networks. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 36(1):56-73, 2008

5. A. Chaudhury, M. Kim, and M. Tiwari, Importance of First Steps in a Community for Growth, Diversity, and Engagement, WWW’16 (Companion), 2016