Harrison BarnesFuture Post RSS https://www.harrisonbarnes.com Thu, 29 Feb 2024 06:30:04 +0000 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.4 The Dangers of Getting Jobs Through Friends https://www.harrisonbarnes.com/?p=2401 https://www.harrisonbarnes.com/?p=2401#comments Sat, 02 Mar 2024 06:30:11 +0000 Harrison Barnes https://www.harrisonbarnes.com/?p=2401

Men are more ready to repay an injury than a benefit, because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure.

“Oh, I already have a friend there. I’ll just contact him.” In the job market, it’s one of the more common things we hear after informing a job seeker that a certain employer has a job opening. There is a lot you need to consider before you decide to apply to a job through a friend or relative, or take a job working for a friend or relative. First, it’s exceedingly rare that a friend or family member will ever be able to get you a position. The reason for this is simple: despite what you think, the involvement of friends or family members in your job search may actually hurt you. All employers know the severe problems that can arise when friends or relatives work together. Because of this, simply going through a close contact is often something that’s actually counterproductive to your job search. Second, even if you are one of the few people who can get positions through a friend or family member, you could run into a great deal of trouble and harm your relationship with that person.

First, this article examines the risks associated with attempting to get a job through a friend or family member. Second, the article will then examine potential problems you could face if you ultimately get a position through these means. Third, this article describes some reasons for not working for a friend or relative. Finally, because it’s so common to get jobs through acquaintances, this article examines the conditions where it’s acceptable and likely to not be a problem.

A. The Risks of Trying to Get a Position Through a Friend or Family Member
When seeking a job through a friend, you’ll be often surprised to find that he or she won’t help you get a job with his/her organization. The organization may actually look upon you negatively and not hire you if you try to use a friend or family member to get hired.

1. Friends and Family Members, More Often Than Not, Do Not Help You When Seeking a Job
One of the most common things that job seekers do is think friends are their best allies in job searches. After all, the employment market is a harsh place. Who better to help you with your job search than a friend employed by someone you’d like to work for? A friend certainly recognizes all of your strengths and appreciates you for the person you are. In addition, the thought of depending upon a stranger when you have a friend or family member close by makes little sense. Certainly, you can always trust a friend over a stranger.

I have been a legal recruiter for several years. I have represented more candidates than I can count. In all of my time as a legal recruiter, I’ve never once had a candidate get a job through a friend. Incredibly, I’ve actually gotten several candidates jobs with firms where they thought they had friends inside who were helping them with their job searches, “insiders” who never got their friends interviews. When I think back on my own life, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten any job where I had a friend or relative helping me.

The issue with using friends to help you with your job search is that you never know your friends as well as you think. Almost instinctively, most people compete with one another. When dealing with people close to you, you will often agree with them just to avoid argument. In fact, if you spend more than a couple of hours with your family or a group of your friends, you will find this sort of thing occurring probably every few minutes throughout each conversation. Friends and family also often do their best to laugh extra hard at each other’s jokes and cover up their unpleasant qualities. Your friends and family will most often say they love your taste in music, your choice of clothing, your house or apartment, your writing, and most everything you take seriously. It’s possible your friends and family mean this. It’s also possible they don’t.

The thought of asking a friend to help you with a job search with his employer is an attempt to shield yourself from the harshness of the world. The same enthusiasm your friends and family have for you in the personal realm, you may imagine, will directly translate to an eagerness to help you find work with their organizations. I would offer at the outset that this is a possibility and you may not be wrong in thinking this. Notwithstanding, this is often not the case.

One of the more common things that occurs when job seekers ask a friend or family member for help is nothing. The friend or family member gets your résumé, thinks about it, and then (for whatever reason) decides she doesn’t want to forward it to the powers that be. You can’t imagine how common this is. If you’ve forwarded a résumé to a friend recently, call the hiring partner or recruiting coordinator about it. In over 50% of the cases, your “friend” will not have even forwarded the information. She will pleasantly tell you she will, but ultimately won’t. Your friend will often lie and tell you she forwarded the information she didn’t. Again, I’ve seen this more times than I can count. The number is over 50% (with the exception of employers that pay “bounties” to employees who find other employees).

Your guess why this occurs is as good as mine. Perhaps your friend or family member simply doesn’t want the two of you working in the same office. Perhaps your friend doesn’t want responsibility for what you might do if you were hired. Perhaps (just perhaps) your friend honestly doesn’t think as highly of your capabilities as you do. While your friend might not tell you he resents you because you have so and so, did so and so, or said such-and-such once, you can believe this can come out if you come to him seeking help with getting a job. Again, you won’t even know this has come out. It just will. The employer may never see your résumé.

Assuming your friend or family member forwards your résumé, be prepared for many brutally honest assessments of your character and talents that you personally may never have been aware of. Most friends speak about one another with other groups of friends when the other isn’t around. Not all of this conversation is pleasant. Do you have any idea what your friends are saying about you? I can almost guarantee you that some of it is negative. You probably don’t even know 10% of the negative things your friends and family say about you when you’re not around. I have a question for you: do you want any of this 90% of invisible negative information you aren’t aware of to be communicated to your potential employer?

2. The Reasons Organizations Often Do Not Like to Hire Friends or Family Members of Their Employees
We have traditionally considered nepotism a negative term. The word originates from the Latin word nephos, which means nephew, and described Pope Calixtus III’s hiring of nephews as cardinals. The first anti-nepotism policies probably originated in the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages or Renaissance, when resentment built against incompetents appointed to high clerical offices. To this day, nepotism is something that can create resentment in all employment environments. In this article, I define nepotism as the hiring of relatives and friends.

Reducing corruption and increasing efficiency are the primary reasons many organizations have anti-nepotism policies. Corruption has always been a concern in this realm. If individuals who are friends or relatives work together, organizations fear these individuals may collaborate to advance their own interests rather than the interests of the organization. Nepotism can also lower morale of those who supervise relatives of friends of high-level members of the organization, those who work with them, and those who feel that rewards or promotions were given unfairly. One or two friends or relatives may react negatively (and contrary to the interests of the organization) when another is criticized or disciplined by the organization. Finally, perception is a serious problem. Other employees will also perceive unequal treatment of one friend or relative, whether this is the case.

While a great deal could be written about nepotism its something many employers are concerned about. Using a perceived “in” with an employer to get a job may actually hurt you because of the employer’s own feelings about nepotism.

It’s important to note that not all employers will be against nepotism. For example, in smaller, family-owned law businesses, it’s often common because it provides an efficient way to identify dedicated employees. Nepotism may also foster a dedicated, family-like environment that boosts the morale of everyone, relatives and friends alike. A good example is the Central Intelligence Agency, which actually encourages the hiring of married couples. Having both spouses free to discuss classified information can actually reduce the strain of a high-stress career.

While nepotism may have its place, it’s important to note that more often than not, it is something that can scare away employers. It should therefore be avoided in the job search.

B. The Problems You Will Likely Cause Yourself if You Get a Position Through a Friend or Family Member
I review a lot of the résumés that we receive throughout the United States each day at BCG Attorney Search. There are two things I see a lot of: (1) associates who obviously don’t have the qualifications to work inside certain law firms and (2) associates working for small law firms (with their own last names in the mastheads) who are secretly looking for jobs.

Each and every time I speak with these associates, I find they are in positions because of family members and are extremely resentful of the family members for whatever reason. They have lots of negative things to say about them and desperately want new jobs with the same salaries and levels of responsibility. Not once in my career do I think I have seen one of this class of associates who was qualified for a job even remotely as good as the one he/she was in. These associates always resent and, in most instances, hate the family member who got them the jobs they were unqualified for to begin with. These associates refuse to go to a less-prestigious firm or job. Most often, in fact, they believe they should work for even better organizations.

If you accept a job through a friend or family member, watch out. More important, watch yourself. In the end, you will probably be your own downfall. It’s your friend’s or family member’s act of kindness that will ultimately unbalance your friendship.

The typical pattern that happens when someone is hired by a friend, or family member is as follows. First, the people hired are grateful for being hired, but want to feel as if they deserve their good fortunes. The friends or family members hired will look for many justifications to show the world and show to themselves that they deserve their good fortunes.

One response of the people hired may be to believe that being hired is a payback of sorts for everything that they have ever done to be kind to their friends or family members. They begin justifying their hiring by everything they have ever said or done for the friend or family member.

Another response may be for the hired person to compare themselves to others inside the same organization and believe they are more intelligent than all of these other people. Therefore, the hired friends or family members justify their positions by often unjustly attacking their fellow employees.

The most common reaction, though, is that the hired friend or family member will become resentful of the person who helped him get the job to begin with. The receipt of a favor can come to mean, in the hired friend’s or family member’s eyes, that he was hired because of this and not based on merit. There is what I would term “hidden condescension” in the act of hiring a friend or family member that grinds at him all the time.

Whoever you work for likely cares more about (1) getting the job done and (2) doing the job as well as they can do it than having friendly feelings flowing between the two of you. Your status as a friend or relative of someone doesn’t mean you’re automatically the one who can best do the job. If you cannot do the job in the best manner, more resentment is going to arise when your friend or family member asks another person to help with a task.

One of the more brilliant state leaders of the 19th century, Napoleon’s Foreign Minister Talleyrand, decided that his boss was leading France to ruin. Talleyrand therefore decided that he needed to take down Napoleon. Obviously, overthrowing Napoleon wouldn’t be a small one. In order to carry it out, Talleyrand desperately needed to enlist the help of someone he could trust. Instead of turning to a friend for help, Talleyrand turned to his worst enemy, Fouche’, the head of the Secret Police.

Fouche’ had even tried to have Talleyrand assassinated. The brilliance of Talleyrand’s choice was that it provided Fouche’ with the opportunity to reconcile with Talleyrand on an emotional level. In addition, there was nothing Fouche’ would expect from Talleyrand, and quite the contrary, Fouche’ would work hard to prove that he was worthy of Talleyrand’s picking him for the task. When people have something to prove, they will work harder than those who do not. Compare this to what could have occurred if Talleyrand simply went to a friend for help.

Talleyrand chose Fouche’ because he knew that their relationship would be based entirely on their mutual self-interest in removing Napoleon and not poisoned by personal feelings. While their effort to topple Napoleon ultimately failed, they could generate much interest in the cause and had a good relationship from now on.

Similarly, it is important to realize that getting a job and working in a job on equal ground and in an atmosphere of mutual self-interest is crucial. Personal feelings obscure the fact that there is work that needs to be done efficiently. In a work environment where everyone is evaluated and judged on merit, more productivity and honesty on all sides can only ensure good business.

C. Conclusions
One of the more disturbing phone calls I’ve received was from the Dean of Career Services at a second-tier law school. The Dean had read an article I wrote that advised attorneys on how to get a job in a tough legal market. The Dean told me that the first place everyone should always look to get a job was with their family. The Dean then told me that people should go to events and “make friends” with other attorneys and then ask them for jobs (a.k.a. “networking”). As I listened to the Dean speak, it became abundantly clear to me she did not like any manner of getting an attorney job that did not come through friends or family. In her view, if a job came through a friend or family member, it was far better than getting a job through a “stranger.”

It’s natural when looking for a job to contact the people you know to see if they can help you with your job search. In fact, I would guess that most job seekers early in their careers contact a family member, a personal friend, or an acquaintance when seeking a new job. Most associates and partners I have worked with as a recruiter (who have contacted me for help) have been clear with me that before contacting a recruiter, they contacted a friend, an acquaintance, or another person they were connected with in some social manner to see if he could help with a job search. Most employees have, in time, told a friend that they would try to assist them with getting a job at their place of work.

While it may be difficult to believe—and contrary to the advice of the Dean–you actually may be safer (1) getting a job without the help of family or friends and (2) working in an environment without family or friends. You do both at your own risk. Most of the time, I believe the risks far outweigh the potential long-term and short-term rewards.


Despite the obvious advantages, getting jobs through a friend or relative may ultimately harm you. When you do so, you risk lowering your colleague’s opinions of you, who may see your connections as evidence that you lack the skills to get your position on your own merits. There are situations in which it is acceptable to take advantage of such connections, but you must be on your guard. Make sure the job you get is a good fit, and one in which you would perform well regardless of your connections.

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Picking Up Suicide Victims in a Shanghai River https://www.harrisonbarnes.com/?p=13720 https://www.harrisonbarnes.com/?p=13720#comments Fri, 01 Mar 2024 06:28:48 +0000 Harrison Barnes https://www.harrisonbarnes.com/?p=13720
I watched a chilling story on CNN yesterday about a man who has started a business driving his small motorboat up and down a river outside of Shanghai, finding and picking up suicide victims.

He fishes the bodies out of the water (in various states of decomposition) and then calls the families and tries to negotiate the highest prices possible for the return of the bodies. Most of the suicides are people who jumped off bridges all around Shanghai.

Business is very good for this man. Based on the news story, he is fast becoming wealthy. The faster Shanghai grows, the more suicides there are, and the more money the man earns.

What I found interesting about this story was not that so many suicides were occurring.  Instead, the interesting fact was that almost all the suicides were by people who had moved from small farming villages from all over China to Shanghai. Uneducated, without social connections, and with few skills, not everyone ends up fitting in and making it in the big city. Many of the people from farming villages cannot read and have never been to school. They do not “fit in” with the social norms of a sophisticated city like Shanghai. Social niceties and similar behavior that might be taken for granted elsewhere are not known to them.

Rather than returning to their former lives in their villages, the men end their lives believing death is better than the alternative.

The move from agricultural areas to cities has been occurring in cultures all over the world for hundreds of years. There is nothing remarkable about that. What is remarkable, though, is the fact that people who move from villages believe that city life is so much better and important than their own.

I do not know how many movies and television shows I have seen that explore the differences in social conventions between people from cities and the country.  Shows like Wife Swap and The Simple Life explore this. These shows are always good for a few laughs when social conventions are so closely compared—almost always at the expense of the person from the country.

Agricultural workers who move to Shanghai may face draconian working conditions.  They may work in a factory eighteen hours a day for very little pay. Many workers will just take what they can get. Many may not find jobs at all. Nevertheless, back in the village they came from, the workers may not have enough to eat and face extreme poverty. At least in a menial factory job, this is not a threat.

On a social level, cities around the world always seem more glamorous than agricultural areas.  In the United States, people from agricultural areas are called “hicks” and are often looked down upon by people from cities. There are even hierarchies of a sort among cities. People from New York City almost universally think they are more sophisticated than people from Chicago and Houston, and so forth.

As economies (like China’s) start to grow, there is a mass migration to cities.  Some are able to make it in the cities, and others are not.

A job with a corporation in a city will often result in a suppression of individualism.

  • You may be expected to wear a suit and tie or a uniform.
  • You are told when to work and when to quit.
  • You are told what you are going to be paid.
  • You are expected to fit in.

Your success will come to a large extent based on your ability to conform and be part of the group in whatever company or organization you are part of. Your success will come from connections you make–who you know.

American Indians in the United States are a perfect example. Their culture for hundreds of years involved living off the land. As a group of people, their transition to cities and modern living has been difficult for them. Many remain on reservations and do not leave. Understanding the society around them and integrating has been a challenge for those who chose to attempt it. It has, for many, been an issue of fitting in with the dominant society that rapidly grew up around them.

A few years ago, I was in Fiji and noticed that most of the people working in the businesses and hotels were all Indian (from India).  “Why no Fijians?” I asked several people.

The explanation I received was quite interesting. Apparently when the English and others first came to Fiji, they could not get the Fijians to work.  For as long as the Fijians had been there, they had been able to live by picking up a coconut, catching a fish, and living simply.

The Fijian culture never learned to appreciate work and did not see the point of working eight-plus hours a day when they already had everything they needed. Fijians, like American Indians to some extent, could not be commoditized or forced to conform (i.e., made like everyone else).  They kept their individuality.  Indians were brought in from cities around India and they set out working right away.

I think that, to some extent, the reason for the suicides and so forth in Shanghai is related to the fact that many of the people moving from the villages are simply unable to fit in with the different expectations of the city.  They remain individuals who cannot conform to a different understanding of work and behavior in cities.

One of the largest messages of self-help gurus–and even the American consciousness—is the idea that we can do anything alone. In fact, the idea of individualism is something that has been part of the American credo for some time now.  James Dean made this idea famous in Rebel Without a Cause in the 1950s when he showed a shocking level of individualism for what was largely a conformist society at that time.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the idea of American individualism came out even more. Drug use and sexual promiscuity increased. Pop icons were respected and gained fame and power for stepping outside of the normal rules of society. Corporations became held in suspicion for suppressing creativity, enforcing social norms, and so forth.

By the 1990s, workplaces started adopting “casual Fridays.”  Then, many employers dropped dress codes altogether. Silicon Valley inserted itself into the dominant culture and people became revered for being creative and individualistic. The lone entrepreneur became celebrated.  Even today we see people like Elon Musk and others who are portrayed as working alone and fighting the status quo (e.g., developing electric cars, launching rockets to compete with NASA).

Most people do not succeed alone, though. People succeed by being parts of groups and being supported by groups. The better the group you are in and the more support you have, the better off you will be. Many people who achieve great success often believe this is simply due to their ability; however, in most cases, this is not true. Success comes, in most cases, from our relationships with others.

In our personal lives, we are defined by the success of our primary relationships with others:

  • A successful relationship benefits us in numerous ways: we are happy, we identify ourselves by the relationship, and it helps us become positive and creative.
  • A poor relationship works in a similar but negative way: we feel angry, limited, suspicious, and afraid.

Think about the successful close relationships you have had and how the success of this relationship defined much of what went on with your life. Your fate and life will be affected in subtle ways by the dynamics and quality of your relationships with other people.

Do you know people whose friends, lovers, and others seem to always be worse off due to their relationship with them? Do you know people whose friends, lovers, and others always seem to be better off due to their relationship with them? I do. I think our lives are completely defined by the quality of our social connections.

Having quality links and social connections with others is crucial for your happiness and success. People who do not have such links are often not happy.

The reason that so many people are plunging into the river in Shanghai—I think—is due to the quality of the social connections the people have when they move to the cities from villages. Where they once had lots of connections, they now have few to none. They have no social support. They are not appreciated for their accomplishments and what they have done.  They are not respected members of the society in the city—whereas they might have been supported when they lived in the country.

The people who do not end up floating dead in rivers, and who succeed in their careers and lives, have a secret: they make the most of networks, and they have large networks of people who support them, give them information, and help them.

One of the most typical stories I hear is about stars having psychological issues, problems with drugs, and so forth. In almost all cases the reason for this is that the person feels isolated and alone. I saw a story recently about Tatum O’Neil, who spent a long time in the hospital after a traffic accident and only had three visitors the whole time (her parents each visited just once).  She soon descended into a world of drugs and other problems with her personal life and a suicide attempt.

You need to work with people with whom you have an affinity and can create connections.  You need to work in an industry where you can create connections.  Your career and success will be determined, in large part, by your ability to create connections with the people around you.


Your success depends on the connections you make, and your ability to conform to the groups of which you are a part. People succeed based on the support they receive from the groups of which they are members. Develop quality links and social connections with others, and work with people for whom you have an affinity and with whom you can grow.

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