Using connections to get ahead is not OK except for when it is OK

Here in Illinois, the big news in our daily Chicago Tribune is its front-page campaign to expose how politicians and university trustees are using their clout to influence the admission of less qualified applicants to prestigious University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Every day we munch Cheerios and sip caffeine to a new revelation.

“Irregularities” (ahem) in the administration of public institutions in Illinois is nothing new. Just this year Governor Rob Blagojevich was removed from office on charges he tried to sell the Senate seat vacated when Barack Obama moved up to the Presidency. And then there are the frequent run-of-the-mill scandals in Chicago and surrounding communities.

Ho-hum. So what else is new?

Conditioned as I am to expect investigations and scandals, I’m of two minds on the U of I revelations.

One mind is concerned that the university would allow connections to trump qualifications in a highly competitive admissions process.

My second mind is not surprised since all prestige colleges have criteria beyond individual intellectual achievement: children of alumni, children of wealthy donors, children of movie stars, stupid guys recruited for the football team, and unique displays of multi-talented well-roundedness (like the all-As tuba player who writes sonnets and volunteers at hospitals in the Amazon).

Then my third mind suggests that the trustees may benefit the university as a whole by endorsing less-qualified applicants who have friends in high places. The reasoning goes like this: By catering to the legislators who determine the university budget, trustees and admissions officers are assuring better funding by the state, benefiting all students (or at least those who get admitted).

In other words, it’s all for the good.

Well, you gotta understand, I’m an Illinoisan. That kind of thinking is in the very air we breathe. Like ragweed.

It’s ironic that the Tribune opposes the use of clout in college admissions decisions, considering its stance on personnel recruitment in CareerBuilder.com, partially owned by the Tribune Company.

CareerBuilder continually publishes on the use of networking (the systemic application of clout) in corporate job campaigns. It doesn’t sit idly by; instead it actively instructs readers to hop on the networking bandwagon.

Here’s some of Careerbuilder’s recent advice on how to use inside connections:

• “Using the name of a common contact to make the connection between you and the hiring manager is by far the best way to ensure your cover letter and resume get optimal attention. So, keep in touch with members of your professional network; you never know who has a contact at the company you hope to work for.” (Robert Half International, CB-576)

• “Your friends, family and former co-workers each have a network of their own—and a friend-of-a-friend might hold the perfect lead. Don’t be shy. Reach out to your network and let your contacts know you’re on the job market.” (Kate Lorenz, CB-559)

• “The key to job nirvana—even in a recession—is to get to know individuals employed at target organizations who are in a position to hire you or refer you internally. Searching networking Web sites and asking your parents’ friends and your college professors and internship supervisors can prove helpful in this regard.” (Alexandra Levit, CB-1224))

Of course, making connections and using them for all they’re worth in the service of getting a job isn’t unique to CareerBuilder. It’s common wisdom in the employment industry that most jobs are obtained through networking. An oft-published corollary is that online career listings are so ineffective as to be at the bottom of the action list for job seekers.

The greater irony is that Career Builder, now somewhat scorned by job hunters relative to networking, could play a key role in restoring openness and impartiality to the recruitment process if corporate HR departments became dedicated to the even-handed review of resumes irrespective of inside connections and resolved to end favoritism in hiring practices.

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2 responses to “Using connections to get ahead is not OK except for when it is OK

  1. John Fischer

    The key element here is that the University of Illinois is a public institution – funded to some extent with tax money.

    What the private universities might do is different.

  2. Pingback: Twitted by DianaSchneidman

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