Keeping It In The family: Who You Know, Not What You Know
‘It’s so, so normal’ to get a job – and especially a first job – through family connections, states the popular career agony aunt of Ask a Manager. And in a world where 7 in 10 new graduates use family connections to get their first job, she may just be right. But is this simply a way of life, to be accepted, or it is providing kids from wealthy, well-connected backgrounds with a hugely unfair advantage that should be stamped out immediately? Which industries are most rife with such favouritism, and are there any situations in which it’s completely acceptable?
In years gone by, many firms kept business in the family, the words ‘and sons’ featuring in the name of many family companies. Whilst nowadays some businesses are passed down, family connections are more common when it comes placing your children into high-powered firms or careers.
Where does the issue lie?
The issue of privilege spans a huge range of career paths, and is not exclusive to any one industry. Perhaps the most obvious industry is that of performance. Such famous figures as Emma Roberts and even Daniel Radcliff (whose mother is a casting agent) gained access to the spotlight through family connections.
Whilst the music industry enjoys flaunting such figures as Ed Sheeran and X-factor stars One-Direction as excelling through pure talent, it’s clear that this doesn’t apply to the majority of chart-topping artists, with pop stars like Miley Cyrus and Lily Allen having connections to thank for giving them their first shot at stardom.
In careers perhaps less visible to the general public, a powerful family can get your foot into seemingly immovable doors. Gaining experience in legal fields, for example, can be a long and arduous process with rounds of application – but if you know a judge you’ve no problems, and can easily spend a week in court with top barristers.
Money begets money
The corporate world is similarly accessible for those with blood ties. As the age old adage goes, it really is about who you know, just as much – if not more so – than what you know. The big problem for those that don’t have these connections is that such contacts go hand in hand with money.
Of the richest 5 people in the world, 4 of them are entrepreneurs whose careers are built on their own businesses, and starting a new business takes an initial input of money. Whilst it’s all very well saying that setting up a new company is a risky business, the only ones actually able to do this are those with the initial capital behind them.
But can hardship help?
J K Rowling holds that it is failure which brings the greatest inner strength, setting you free in allowing you to realise your greatest fears and survive them. Those who have grown up in privileged families fear this all the more, and this is perhaps a reason why some of the most well-known entrepreneurs come from working class backgrounds. Conversely, those that come from lower class backgrounds use this as a selling point of their success. As Rowling says, poverty is never glamorous, but the rise from it can be.
Where do we go from here?
So what effect is this selective approach to job opportunities having? Such connections grant chances to new graduates, at the exclusion of those from less privileged backgrounds. Furthermore, when basic needs such as rent and food are met and such fears of homelessness eliminated, it’s much easier to strive for a career – be this creative or otherwise – which requires risks and time commitment without remuneration.
For now, the more visible issue is that of finances not connections, and whilst such companies as the BBC have clamped down on allowing entry through friends and family connections, in many companies across numerous industries the right contacts might just (unfortunately) make you the right person for the job.
Alexandra Jane is the writer and editor of graduate careers advice for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment agency. Check out their website to see which internships and graduate jobs are currently available, as well as their graduate jobs Manchester page for further opportunities.