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Who you know versus what you know

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Credit: David Basanta

At a time when decisions on internships and graduate jobs hang in the balance, the age old adage that 'it's who you know not what you know' may ruefully spring to mind for some.

We have all no doubt heard countless stories of friends gaining terrific employment opportunities without even a mention of the formal application process, a fact which has left a bitter taste in many mouths.

In an age of ever increasing employment equality legislation and supposed equal opportunities, does the old saying still hold true?

Successive government's attempts to eradicate this culture have been a mixed success, with charities such as the Social Mobility Foundation founded to break down social barriers to high level employment. The Civil Service for example also offers what it calls the 'The Summer Diversity Internship Programme', with the aim of increasing opportunities to those from under-represented socioeconomic backgrounds.

Nevertheless, many from households on middle income are not eligible for any form of governmental support or assistance, and it is this group which struggles.

This is not to say that those without any contacts cannot succeed. The rise of social networking tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn has increased the scope of potential networks to the extent that many senior employees at large firms are now easily contactable.
However it must be noted that this process is extremely time consuming, relies on cold calling employees out of the blue and therefore holds little chance of success.

It is still the case that most of the top jobs are reserved for those with the right connections. This can be seen through the existence of exclusive societies such as the infamous Bullingdon Club at Oxford University. The New York Times describes the club as representing the "acme of exclusiveness at Oxford; it is the club of the sons of nobility, the sons of great wealth; its membership represents the 'young bloods' of the university". The importance of such a membership cannot be disputed, with the club boasting numerous notable former members, including the cream of British politics in David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

Against this competition, the outlook for 'ordinary' people to break into the upper echelons of the business world looks bleak. The City in particular remains the impenetrable fortress it always has been, with recent findings by the Sutton Trust showing that 59 per cent of the leading figures in business were privately educated. It is within these schools that connections are made, and it is these connections which inevitably lead to greater employment opportunities.

Although some progress has been made in breaking down the barriers associated with elitism, it is still the case that the better connected succeed. Whether this will change in the future, only time will tell.

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2 Comment

SS Posted on Sunday 13 Oct 2019

Why would it change? Friendship is about doing favours for each other.
The same goes for family.

It is human nature, so get over it.


Lord Montigue Posted on Sunday 13 Oct 2019

Forget the Bullingdon (Buller!!!) - The real Club of Oxford for 'who you know' is Vincent's - I wonder why this is never ever mentioned!!!!!!!!!


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