How Well Do You Know Your Professional Network?

How Well Do You Know Your Professional Network

I’d be surprised if many readers are unaware of the concept of Six Degrees of Separation aka Small Worlds Theory, popularised by serious research and less serious, but entertaining, literature, games and game shows. Are you familiar with the theory of Three Degrees of Influence though?

Whilst Six Degrees of Separation informs social network thinking, Three Degrees of Influence suggests that our actual influence on our networks is meaningless beyond three degrees ie friends of friends of friends. You can see this effect in Linkedin which, with a little dexterity, reveals that I have 630,000 2nd Connections. Just imagine how massive that number would be if Linkedin still calculated the size of my (6th degree) network; but that information has been dropped from Home pages, because it’s so obviously “meaningless”.

My own 1st Connections currently stand at around 1500, but Linkedin is a business/professional network, not a social network, and I’m not even going to pretend that all 1500 Connections are friends, let alone that I have 630,000 “friends of friends”. The questions begging to be answered are: How many of those 1500 are people I really know and what criteria can I use to find out?

It wasn’t that difficult for me to identify my benchmark criteria. I’m involved in a new initiative (, which sets out to challenge traditional recruitment practices by identifying candidates based on trusted referrals, and we’d already arrived at our own Three Degrees of Influence limit for the degree to which trust is transferable. Taking the receipt of a Client requirement as the “first degree”, then we consider “professional friends of professional friends” as the absolute limit to which we would extend our trust. So I set out to evaluate which of my 1st Connections I know and trust sufficiently that I would risk my reputation in recommending them for a job.

I’ve successfully trawled through my LinkedIn Connections and identified 350 I know so well that I might be prepared to stake my own reputation on if the role was appropriate. I previously believed that I took this whole networking thing seriously; but I was astonished by this result. Back in my carefree youth, when I briefly considered a career selling insurance, I was told that most people had about 200 acquaintances, which is not only well short of my 1500 1st Connections, but far short of those who I’m evidently on first name terms with. A restless career, social media, email and advancing age mean that I am far, far better connected than I once was.

You may be surprised by the integrity of your own network too if you have a mind to explore it. LinkedIn don’t make it easy, but it is possible to export your entire list of connections to Excel and I’ve produced a simple guide to assist, just email me at if you’d like me to send you a copy.


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