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Nepotism in hiring alive and well

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October 22, 2019
By Todd Humber

It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.

That’s a familiar refrain from jobseekers who submit application after application into the vortex of applicant tracking systems. If you know someone on the inside who can walk your resumé to HR or, even better, directly to the hiring’s manager desk, you’re golden.

If not, it really feels like you have no shot at the gig.

Nepotism is hardly a new phenomenon in business or government. Just today, the Globe & Mail ran a story about Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s “growing list of patronage appointments.”


Last night over dinner, one of our friend’s daughters talked about her new summer job working at Honda’s assembly plant in Alliston, Ont. She just completed her first week on the line building the Honda CRV.

“I’m one of the only people there who doesn’t have a relative already working there,” she said.

She was surprised she got the $17 an hour job given how competitive it is and the fact she doesn’t have a family member already on Honda’s payroll.

It reminded me of my own summer job experience in the early 1990s working for Chrysler Canada at its Windsor Assembly Plant.

Chrysler had a point system in place for summer hires – you got:

·        10 points if you had a family member on the payroll

·        10 points if you were in university or college

·        10 points if you had worked there in the past.

If you had 30 points, you were guaranteed a job. Most of the 20 points were also hired. If you had 10, you had feint hope of getting the plum gig. I had 20 my first year (my dad worked there, and I was enrolled at the University of Windsor.) The second year I applied, I was a 30-pointer who was a lock for a position.

There’s a debate to be had about this, and it should be taken through two different lenses – students and full-time hires.


Using nepotism to hire students, to me, isn’t problematic.

It’s an employee benefit, part of the total rewards package if you will. Having your son or daughter added to the payroll, picking up some extra cash to defray the high costs of post-secondary education and learn some additional life skills, is a nice perk.

In an era where it’s harder to differentiate offerings, it’s a low-cost (you’re hiring a student anyway) and highly appreciated benefit.

Full-time employment

It gets a little hazy when it comes to finding a permanent job, though. Employers will argue that employee referrals can be a fantastic source of talent.

Many even offer bonuses and incentives to staff who refer successful candidates – I’ve seen payouts anywhere from $500 to in excess of $5,000, depending on the role.

But employers can be shutting the door on top talent who may not have an “in” at the organization. And since many HR departments have policies that state all internal applicants and anyone referred by an employee must be interviewed, it makes it that much tougher for the unknown candidate to crack through the firewall.

For professionals already under a time crunch, getting through the patronage interviews is enough of a chore. They may be unwilling, or unable, to dig much deeper into the talent pool.

Nepotism is here to stay, and it’s not always a bad thing. But the onus is on employers, especially hiring managers, recruiters and HR, to ensure they’re getting the best talent in the door – and not just the ones who have the best connections.

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