I feel guilty that I got a job through family connections

A reader writes:

So I am a year and a half out of college. I work as a Teapot Package Designer (obviously not my real field). I’ve been in my job since May of this year and I’m definitely happy to be here. I like the work, my team is great, and I’ve learned so much.

I got my position through a family friend, who heads Teapot Packaging at my workplace. I had worked as a Teapot Packaging Researcher before, and I had some general teapot packaging skills. But it wasn’t the caliber of work experience that most people in my position have. I am very green, very young, and quite under-qualified for my position. I got my job because of my family friend and it’s very obvious. She really fast-tracked me into the organization.

I have definitely made mistakes but overall I think I’m doing well. I have received praise and good feedback. I was asked to lead a series of presentations and they were well-received. I’m proud of my work.

But I can’t stop feeling like I’m only in my position because of my family friend. I feel guilty and like I took the job from someone more qualified who deserved it more. Is this okay? Is this weird? Is this bad? People talk about the evils of nepotism in hiring and I feel guilty. I’m not sure what to do with these feelings. I’m not the only one who got hired through connections, but they all had more work experience than I did. I feel like a kid who got a big boost, not an adult who networked my way to where I am. I don’t deserve this.

Also, sometimes this family friend mentions our outside-of-work connection, like asking me how my sister is doing or something. I feel very weird and self-conscious about that. I’m not sure how to navigate it. Sometimes she also sits me down and asks me about my long-term goals and I don’t know how to answer that question; I feel like our personal relationship makes it weirder.

Oh gosh. It’s so, so normal.

I applaud you for questioning it because so often people don’t, but really, I don’t think you need to continue feeling guilty.

People get jobs for all sorts of reasons that aren’t strictly about their qualifications — sometimes it’s connections like happened here, sometimes it’s that they clicked really well with the interviewer, sometimes it’s that they talk a really good game, and all sorts of other reasons too. None of that is ideal, but it’s very, very common.

And you’re doing well in your position, so it’s likely that the person who referred you and the person who hired you both did see some potential in you, and that’s now paying off — for you and for them.

But here’s what you can do that I think will help you feel better and also will be genuinely the right way to respond to this: Resolve to pay it forward to people who don’t have the kind of network you benefitted from. Lots of people don’t have a network that can open doors for them and pull them up, which leads to real inequity in the workforce and in life in general. At some point you’re going to be in a position professionally where you can open the door a little wider for people — spend a little extra time talking to them, give a resume a second look, lend some advice to someone who needs it, be helpful in whatever ways you can.

If you do that, you’ll pay off any debt incurred here and potentially far more.

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. Simplytea

    100% with Alison here. You got this! Even if people have doubts… you’re proving them wrong.

    Also, this is (sadly) oftentimes what networking is anyway. Very very common. Onward and forward!

    1. Green Tea Pot

      Yes! That you have the feelings you have tells me a great deal about your character! Good for you! If this job is taking you where you want to go, stick with it. Let us know how it works out!

      1. Annonymouse

        Also you aren’t wasting your opportunity or doing nothing but the bare minimum – you’re proving you deserve your job.

        I think you’re thinking networking and neopotism are s bit closer than they are.

        What happened at my old job = neopotism.

        I worked for a small business that had two branches. I’m the one who did the day to day running of the office and ran the programs and staffing that served 3/4 of our clients. So was pretty important to the business.

        Owners son could only work sporadically. Anyone else would be let go but not him.

        THEN boss announces big plan for company: son to work under me during uni holidays and days off learning the ropes. After he graduates (4 years later) he will then become CEO of whole company.

        I will still be office manager. I will not get to run one of our branches or any kind of movement, progression or credit.

        That was the final straw for me. I found another job and left.

        I take great pleasure in knowing it took 2 – 3 people to replace me (including the CEOs son), that they lost at least 25% of their clients, have never had a single we’ll run event in the two years since I left and had to sell off one of their branches to another franchisee.

        Neopotism doesn’t pay.

        1. Honeybee

          This is the kind of nepotism that doesn’t make any sense to me – the benefits to the owner (job for his son) seem to be completely outweighed by the enormous costs. Even at best, you have a completely inexperienced person as your CEO and you’ve lowered group morale by promoting a 21-year-old after people with far more experience and longevity at the company.

  2. Katie F

    One day, I would love to see a question sent in by someone who actually does design teapot packaging.

    One day…

    1. CMT

      This would be the perfect place for somebody in the teapot industry to go incognito, because we’ll never assume it’s their real job!

      1. March(e)

        I’m sure there’s somewhere in the world that makes chocolate teapots. I want to belieeeeeve.

          1. Purple Dragon

            They don’t ship to Australia either :(
            And I absolutely love their explanation of why they don’t ship – it’s hilarious !

    2. animaniactoo

      I do actually design packaging (working on some right now as a matter of fact), but not for teapots!

      Although… hmmm… I might go re-raise a dead project that includes a teapot though! Just so I can say I designed packaging for a teapot. LOL

    3. Tess McGill

      Well if any commenter ever uses the name “Emma Bridgewater” then yup, they actually make teapots. ;)

  3. Vin Packer

    This is a great answer.

    I’m one of those people trying to claw their way up from the bottom socio-economic rung with no helpful boosts like those you evidently have access to. Yet, when I rail against the extremely unequal playing field in our society, I’m talking about a lot of big-picture systemic issues that keep people like former-me down regardless of skills or qualifications. I would never suggest that an individual person who took an opportunity and made the most of it should feel guilty about having the opportunity–take it and run with it, OP, and don’t forget part II of Alison’s response (about paying it forward). Congratulations on rising to the challenge.

    1. Emma

      Yeah, this. I want those opportunities for more people, not to take opportunities away from people who currently have access to them.

      Also, I don’t think the problem with nepotism crops up so much when getting a job so much as it can come up later with keeping a bad worker in a job, or not giving other employees fair shots at raises or somesuch. None of that sounds like it’s happening here – in fact, it sounds like the family friend is trying to mentor the OP, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all.

      1. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)

        Also, I don’t think the problem with nepotism crops up so much when getting a job so much as it can come up later with keeping a bad worker in a job…

        Yeah, this is the crucial difference I think. I’m about to go back to work for my high school boyfriend’s mum for the third time in seven years. She hired me for my first professional job while I was dating her son, we split up, I continued to work for her for a year or so. She moved companies (and cities), six months later, called and asked if I felt like moving. Spent three and a half years there before moving on. Now she’s called me again and I’m going to work for her in her new company. It absolutely started as nepotism, but she keeps hiring me because I’m freaking fantastic at my job. And by the sounds of it, OP, you probably are too!

      2. Bookworm

        Agreed. I also think that OP, as Alison pointed out, is aware of her luck and therefore more likely to pass it along – as opposed to those people who benefit from privilege but are unable (or unwilling) to recognize that.

      3. JJJJShabado

        +1

        When my department was hiring, I encouraged my friend to apply (he was doing manufacturing and I was/am in a professional jon) and he’s awesome at the job. Other people have been hired as a result of personal connections. It’s not an issue because they are good at their job. I would not have gotten my friend the job if I didn’t think he’d be good at it. Our friend will be laid off soon and we are encouraging him to apply for our work as well. If they were not good at their job, it would reflect badly on me.

        Time fades away details. I’ve been with my wife for 7 years and we forget that we met online. I don’t think its top of mind that I am very good friends with my co-worker (I was co-best man in his wedding 2 weeks after he was hired). If you are doing a good job, nobody will care. To me, that’s a goal independent of how you got the job.

    2. OP

      How exactly do I pay it forward? Currently when I know someone on the job hunt, if they’re interested, I show them the job openings we have and tell them what I know about it. I tell them if they decide to apply, let me know and I’ll give the hiring person a heads-up. Is there more I could be doing?

      1. KarenD

        Allison’s suggestions are really good ones, especially later in your career, but there are things you can be doing right now.

        *If you still live in the area where you went to college, touch base with some of your professors. Tell them you’re working for a great company (any good professor’s heart will glow, just at that news) and that you’d be happy to talk to anyone who’s considering a similar career path. If some of the students you meet look promising, offer to pass their resumes on or give them some pointers.

        *Look at your peers for people who have the talent and dedication to be great employees, but who are being held back by other factors, including some things they may not realize. It’s a common misconception that mentors have to be significantly older and more tenured – peer guidance can be just as important (and a heck of a lot easier on your HR department, assuming you steer clear of any behavior that might be seen as discriminatory). I actually benefited from this; when I was first starting out, a peer with just a year more experience “took me under her wing,” taught me some basic skills like how to effectively stand my ground without being confrontational and very gently convinced me – mostly through her own conduct – that I’d be taken more seriously if I made a few basic changes in my appearance. (If you want a more blunt translation of that last sentence, she helped me see that giggling, twirling my hair, and a penchant for way too much sparkly eyeshadow and low necklines was impacting my performance.)

        And you’re already doing the best thing you can do — you’re proving to your bosses that they were right to take a chance on you, which means they might be more willing to take the same kind of chance in the future, and give someone else a shot.

        1. Honeybee

          In addition to professors, connect with alumni relations and/or with the career center at your university, no matter where you currently live! Often either of those groups will connect you with current students who want to learn more about your company or position/career field.

      2. Julie Noted

        As Alison and others have said below, you’ll have more opportunities to do this as your career progresses. But I want to emphasise that there are many ways to ‘pay it forward’ other than helping people get jobs with your employer.

        I grew up in a family where none of my parents’ generation (or the ones before, obviously) had been to uni or worked in professional or managerial jobs. My school teachers were the only adults I had any regular contact with who were in that class. When I went to uni (country with free education, hooray) and later started working in an office I realised how many things middle class people absorb that give them an edge in the white collar world. 10+ years in the professional world and I’ve picked up a lot of knowledge and skills that are very useful to people like my former self, and my family members. Society paid for my education which boosted me all the way to the upper middle class, so I repay the favour to friends, family, people from church, people I meet in voluntary activities etc by things like:
        – helping them write a great resume, response to selection criteria and prep for interviews
        – help navigating bureaucracy
        – advice on getting your issues heard – strategic communication, to use office lingo
        – career planning advice – thinking about steps to get towards your long-term goal
        – professional services pro bono to local charities
        – help finding answers to questions and identifying bad sources from good – applied research skills, in other words

      3. Pari

        The single most important thing you can do is to seek out and help people who aren’t represented in your employee population. Look around at work and look for the people who are missing that are in your community. Is it lgbtq, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, a specific ethnicity, age, etc.? These are the specific people you should encourage and show them what it takes to get hired.

  4. Colorado

    I just have to comment, as a real, live “packaging engineer”, I loved the Teapot packaging references! :-)

    1. Augusta Sugarbean

      I was just thinking that there probably are people who *are* Teapot Package Designers. I kind of want one of them to write in with a question. “I’m, uh, not Teapot Package Designer and I have a weird work situation….”

  5. TootsNYC

    You can do some other things to boost your own confidence: learn, learn, learn.

    And yes, as you rise, find ways to be inclusive.
    Heck, you might even one day be in a position to create a job stream (contact a local high school in a disadvantaged area and speak to students there about your field, so it occurs to them they can do something like that; or, try to create a high school internship program with such a school).

    And I might suggest you go to your family friend and say, “Would you help me by not mentioning our personal connection while we’re in the office, by asking after my family, etc.? Everybody knows about our connection, but I think it is damaging to my reputation if it gets brought up like that.”

    1. Whats In A Name

      I really like the pay it forward and use it as a learning opportunity approach too.

      If it would make her more comfortable asking not to mention her family but I would also advise it’s really not uncommon in work settings. In my workplace for us to ask about siblings, parents, etc. that we know our co-workers are close with or visiting with, even if we have never met them ourselves.

    2. WhirlwindMonk

      They could say that, but I honestly don’t think they need to worry about it. My first job was for my uncle, and my second and third were through family friend connections, so I feel like I can pretty confidently say that once you’ve proven yourself a capable worker, no one cares how you got the job. It’s only newcomers or known slackers/screw-ups that people view with some suspicion. If you’ve done good work and been recognized for it, as it sounds like the LW has, no one but the most petty of people care.

      And honestly, LW, even if you hadn’t gotten the job through a family connection, you’d probably still feel under-qualified. It’s a normal part of starting a new position. You’re overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you don’t know and everyone else does, and it seems like no matter how much you learn, you still don’t know enough. But you know what determines if you’re qualified for a position? If your boss(es) are satisfied with your work. And it sounds like they are, so stop worrying! You’ve already proven you are absolutely qualified to be doing this job! Just keep learning, keep growing, keep improving, and someday you’ll be one of those people a brand new employee looks up to and thinks “Will I really ever know as much about this job as this guy?”

  6. Sunflower

    I also want to add in that often times when you’re fresh in your career, your willingness and ability to learn are MUCH MUCH more important than the skills you possess before you start. My firm hires with the thought of ‘we can teach you how to do anything but you need to have the right attitude to work here’

    I love Allison’s suggestion of paying it forward. My parent’s didn’t go to college and I learned almost everything I know about job searching, networking from this website and a few good professors I had. My friend got in at a really good org because her BFF’s mom was a director there. When I tried to ask her information on how to get into the org, she basically said apply online. I don’t necessarily blame my friend(I wasn’t expecting her to get me a job) but it would have felt much better to even get a ‘let me check with HR’. Every little thing you can do counts!

    1. TootsNYC

      I also want to add in that often times when you’re fresh in your career, your willingness and ability to learn are MUCH MUCH more important than the skills you possess before you start. My firm hires with the thought of ‘we can teach you how to do anything but you need to have the right attitude to work here’

      YES!!

      I speak of that as “bringing your brain to work.” Someone who comes in with a work ethic and a willingness to really learn is worth more than anything.

      I have to train ANYbody who starts working for me. Being trainable is more important than already knowing everything–because you can’t possibly know everything.

      And the more junior your position, the more important that is.

    2. OP

      I hadn’t really thought of that but you’re right – being moldable is definitely part of it.

      I definitely hope to pay it forward. I have a question: How exactly does that work? When a friend is on the job hunt I tell them about our job openings and to let me know if they plan to apply, and I’ll give the person who’s hiring a heads up. Is there more I could be doing?

      1. AliceBD

        OP, I don’t know that at *this* point in time you can be doing more. But in 10 years (or whenever) when you’re the one doing the hiring, do what Alison suggests to help out. Maybe it is interviewing high school students for your college and you ask them to keep in touch and you give them suggestions on workplace behavior and how to format their resume. Maybe it is giving a second look to a resume that doesn’t have the flashiest school or workplaces on it. Note that in her response she says “at some point” you’re going to be able to help people. I wouldn’t worry overmuch about that point being right this minute when you’re still pretty new yourself.

  7. Kaz

    I didn’t get my job through connections, but more that I was early into a field that has now grown tremendously, and I also feel like it’s my duty to help out younger people who are having a much harder time getting a foothold into the field. So I do the training at my job and encourage them to think about their future career path, push to get them certifications, and generally try to mentor them and teach them with an eye not just to the work they’re doing now but to learn more about the field in general and have a broad body of knowledge. It does kind of irk me that the assistants we’re hiring at my job now make the same wage I did 12 years ago as an assistant, but I was coming in at a much better time, and I know they will make up for it in the future!

    To the LW – sometimes the skill set is not the most important thing. Sometimes a hire is made because you know this person won’t be a pain in the ass and is teachable, which are things you can’t see from a resume, and someone who knows you and can vouch for both of these things takes a great weight off a manager’s mind!

  8. Augusta Sugarbean

    OP, you may have gotten the job because of your family friend but you are keeping it because of your skills and abilities. And speaking as someone with no network whatsoever, I do agree with the “pay it forward” advice for sure.

    1. NotAnotherManager!

      I completely agree with this. I work in an industry rife with connections, and I’ve had situations where I had to hire someone unless they completely bombed the interview. And, you know what? All but one of these connections has been a bright, motivated, hardworking person who met or exceeded position expectations. (The one who didn’t was PIPed and ultimately fired, but even their connection couldn’t argue argue the decision and, I think, was a little embarrassed to have referred someone who was not even trying.)

    2. SimontheGreyWarden

      This is the big key. I *got* my position as an adjunct because of a long trail of “people who know people we know” (I had applied at a local community college and given my resume to my parents’ next-door neighbor who worked there. She passed it on to a close friend of hers, whose daughter I had babysat years before but with whom I had lost touch, who worked at a different school, and that friend interviewed and hired me mostly based on having known 13-year-old-me). However, that dean has moved on and we have a new dean, and she seems to be very happy with my teaching, and it doesn’t matter how I was brought in any more.

  9. AshleyH

    I got my last job because my husband worked at the company and they all LOVED him – we relocated, they happened to have an opening, and they hired me without interviewing another candidate. Now my situation differed because I was very much qualified for my job, but MAN were my coworkers (and even boss) a little chapped over it. Seriously so much passive aggressiveness from them – and it was HR! I was SO glad to get out of there.

    Moral of the story – it happens a lot, and if people aren’t being shady towards you, you’ve got a new one. Count your blessings and move on.

  10. Trout 'Waver

    OP: You didn’t get the job strictly through connections. You got the job because you appeared capable and competent to your family friend. Sure you wouldn’t have gotten the job without your connection. But you also wouldn’t have gotten the job if you hadn’t been a successful teapot researcher. You also wouldn’t have gotten the job if you hadn’t been polite and respectful to your connection.

  11. Persephone Mulberry

    Is the family friend your direct supervisor? If not, I would also sit down with your manager and explain what you did here – that you worry that your relationship with the head of Teapot Packaging means you’re getting biased feedback about the quality of your work. I think just demonstrating this self-awareness will go a long way toward dispelling any (real or imagined) perception of favoritism.

  12. Bigglesworth

    I am currently in my first office job and was in a similar situation to you, OP. It took two years of working retail and food-service just to get an interview at my alma mater. It was with the wife of my academic advisor who was the chair of her department. We first met when my advisor came to Europe to visit his students studying abroad and she came with him. We kept up on a very small level over the next 5 years or so – so definitely not strangers.

    I didn’t get the job initially but was told I was one of their top candidates. After talking with my advisor, I think the fact she knew I wanted to go to graduate school knocked me out of the running. They weren’t looking for an ambitious person in this role. Three months later I received a call asking to come to another interview. Turns out the person they hired who they thought would stay for at least 3-5 years quit. Because of my connection and previous customer service experience, I got the job the second time around. I’ve now been here a 1.5 years, my boss is retired, my advisor has retired, and no one that I had any sort of out-of-work connection with works in my department.

    All that to say, don’t feel bad that you got the job because of your connection. They wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t think you would do a good job. You might be there long after she has left and the people you work with should know that’s a possibility. Keep learning and having a good attitude about your job. That means so much more when you’re starting out than the skills or knowledge you bring in starting off.

    Good luck, OP!

  13. Temperance

    I’ve always been jealous of folks with connections like that, because, frankly, starting at the bottom is really freaking difficult.

    My advice is to be thankful for your opportunity, be aware that many, many people aren’t so lucky, and to work your tail off.

    1. JM in England

      I hear you, Temperance!

      Every job I’ve had to date has been hard won, with few to no network connections. OP, you are the very personification of that old saying “It’s who you know, not what you know”. I strongly believe that this axiom should be taught to all young people who have yet to enter full time employment, to give them a realistic picture of how the working world operates. In fact, building a network should be a key skill taught in schools. If it had in mine, I would have been a lot better adjusted when entering the workforce, having fallen into the trap that a university education was all that was needed to secure a well-paying job……………..

    2. Lora

      +1000. Started at the bottom, and if I had to do it nowadays, I don’t think I could. I happened to graduate at the right time, and lucked into a couple of specific jobs that were great for my resume. Those two jobs built my network in an extremely positive way, and opened a LOT of doors for me. I got some great mentoring too.

      Best advice I can give to people trying to establish a network: join a professional association and just show up. The rewards generally go to the people who show up. You’ll meet lots of interesting people; listen to them talk, people like to talk about themselves. Ask questions. Be interested in the answers. Start Thursday/Friday happy hours. Start lunch-n-learns and journal discussion groups. Bring in vendors to do presentations to your group. Organize group outings to lectures and conferences. Put together presentations or posters or whatever for the conferences. Take a project you like and put your nose to the grindstone, read everything you can about it and become the expert on that thing, so you can be the person everyone else asks for advice on the subject. Be the person who tells the interrupting jerk to let other people have a turn to speak in meetings. Be willing to move somewhere there are a lot of employers in your field, when you can. Work for one of the big employers for at least a few years, so you know what success looks like in your field. Work on projects that interact with lots of other departments, so you know what they do. Maybe do a few years in another aspect of the field. Be curious. Learn constantly.

      1. Whats In A Name

        I was a guest speaker at a women’s networking event not too long ago and a piece of my advice was for them to stop using networking as a way to close a sale and use it as an opportunity to make friends and get to know new people. The business/referrals/jobs will come naturally as a result.

        So many come to the monthly meetings only when they are running a special at work or promoting an event as opposed to attending and chatting with the other women in the group about everyday type of things.

        1. Honeybee

          Yes, yes! I enjoyed networking so much more when I realized it was really about making friendships and playing the long game than expecting someone to hand me a job during our first or second meeting.

  14. MashaKasha

    It does happen a lot. Here’s how I got my first job out of college: my dad was on a business trip to a manufacturing plant, and while there, he got to meet with the plant director. He asked the director if they needed any software developers, and the director said sure. I got the job. I also got a major side-eye from the HR director when I started. So I worked my ass off to prove myself, and here I am almost 30 years and many jobs later. They squeezed me out of that job after my first child was born, so in my mind, that makes us even. Also, when my teammates from that job found work at a better company, they tried to bring me in, so in my mind, I didn’t do so bad during the time I worked with them. I admit I felt weird about how I’d gotten that job, right up until the point when they placed me on an indefinite unpaid maternity leave.

    How my son got his first job out of college: he applied to a few places locally, with no luck. I mentioned it to someone who’d graduated from the same college that I did, but five years later (so we didn’t overlap in college, but met in an online community later), and now works in high-tech on the West Coast. She put his resume into Microsoft, FB, and Google. Google flew him in for an interview. At about the same time, in the same online community, I saw a job ad for a startup at the same location they were flying him out to. I sent his resume to the person that posted the ad, and the startup called him too and scheduled an interview too. He ended up taking a job at the startup. He passed several rounds of interviews, worked there for over a year and got good reviews etc all on his own. All I did was forward a resume to two people I’d never met IRL.

  15. Anon for this

    Ha, I feel you, OP… I work at my father’s company! I’ve been promoted twice since I started here but my hiring was 100% nepotism—in that I didn’t even have to apply… The position opened up, my dad suggested me, I said sure, and I started my first week out of college. I mean, they wouldn’t have given me the job if I didn’t have the skills needed, and I worked here part time in high school so lots of people knew me already, but the fact that my father co-owns the company made things a lot easier.

    It doesn’t bother me because I know I wouldn’t be in the (much higher-level) position I am now if I didn’t deserve it. And I think the same basic logic is true for you… You may have had an advantage in hiring, but it sounds like you’ve proven yourself since. As Alison said, if you’re doing good work & receiving praise for it, that means your family friend’s instincts were right on. That speaks well of them and of you.

    I should add that, tho I don’t feel guilty about the way I got my job, I understand that the dynamics involved are the same dynamics that shut deserving people out of other jobs & are part of a systemic problem, and I’m not exactly overjoyed about that. I’m very very conscious of how lucky I am, and I loved Allison’s advice about paying it forward—I hope I’m in a position to do that someday.

  16. Oh no, not again

    No need to feel bad, OP. It’s hard to get a (decent) job out there. Self care is important, and with the level of self awareness you have, you’ll be just fine.

  17. Tomato Frog

    As Alison points out, a lot of us get our jobs through advantages that aren’t necessarily related to our ability to do the job. The only thing that makes me resent people for it is when they make a big deal of saying they had no such advantages (looking at you, Gwyneth Paltrow). Fortunately this doesn’t come up in conversation too often, or I’m sure I’d resent a lot more people.

  18. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    I recently hired someone who, 100 years ago, I used to work with at a part time retail gig. Our paths crossed again years later and I learned she was eligible and interested in a position I anticipated difficulty filling. She didn’t have experience in the field, but she had related experience, savvy, & wanted to learn and grow. If I hadn’t known her way back when from my retail days, I might have overlooked her. She was an excellent hire. I’ve moved on from that job, but I would hire her again in a heartbeat if I had a position and she was interested and available.

    Leaders recognize potential and they try not to let it go when they see it!

  19. Is it Friday Yet?

    I want to know how the teapot industry became the most commonly used pseudonym for disguising one’s true industry. Allison, is this something you came up with, or was it a reader?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Years ago, a commenter used “chocolate teapots” as a fictional example of a company’s products. I liked it and used it myself a few times, and then it caught on more widely. (I actually usually try to avoid using it too frequently in questions since I know it’ll be confusing to some readers, but at times it’s very useful.)

  20. Abigail

    I think the best way to deal with this right now is to make sure you do a really good job (and great advice about paying it forward later).

    My first “professional” job I got because I had a connection. It was an entry-level admin job of the sort I’d applied to 100 times with no response, but this was during the height of the recession when every job got 500+ applicants and most companies were on a hiring freeze. This connection knew I was struggling to find a job, and they reached out in their organization, in which they held a high position where people had to listen to them, found that a job was about to be posted, and put me in touch with the hiring manager directly.

    I was interviewed the next day, and hired the next. The day after that they posted the job because protocol called for them to do so, but I had already been offered the position. No one else was interviewed.

    I knew that my connection was the only reason I’d been hired, and I felt it at first from my colleagues’ knowing looks, whispers, eye rolls, etc. I had no professional work experience, and it probably showed. But I gave it my all, and pretty soon everyone liked me, and more importantly, felt confident giving me work and knowing it would be done well. After I’d been working there a while, several people even said “We were skeptical about hiring you because we know you only got the job because of your connection to Fergus, but you totally wowed us and we’re so glad you’re here.”

    So, show them that you WERE a great candidate, even if that’s not why you got the job, by being a great employee and coworker. You’ll feel better when you’ve legit earned their respect because of the high quality of your work.

    1. TootsNYC

      every job got 500+ applicants

      One thing about your situation: It’s a royal PITA to sort through 500 somewhat-equally-qualified applicants.

      If someone comes from a contact, with a credible endorsement as to your intelligence, work ethic, pleasantness–well, that’s actually an advantage, and it saves a lot of time to just hire them.

  21. De-lurker

    Another way of paying it forward is to use the opportunity of having the boss’s ear to express authentic praise and positive feedback about coworkers who might not have that advantage. So *if I’ve gotten permission from a coworker to bring his/her idea to the boss,* I’ll talk about it and explicitly identify that person as the source of the idea. For example, “Something that I’m excited about lately is Sheila’s development of the new method for managing teapot projects. It’s made me think about my own role and practice differently, and it’s helped me achieve these specific things in the last few weeks.”

    Or if I’m presenting an idea of my own, I’ll link it to other ideas and efforts that I’m aware of that others are doing — like, “I thought what Sheila was doing was a great idea, and with her help I adapted it to my position. It’s worked out really well in specific ways. I’m grateful that Sheila was such a good teacher and willing to share her idea with me.”

    At least in my case, providing specific, positive feedback for others (in genuine ways) reflects well on me because it shows my commitment to team development and shared growth. And it does not detract from me demonstrating my own commitment to improvement, either, just identifies internal sources of inspiration. I’m lucky to have a workplace where this is appropriate and encouraged.

    1. TootsNYC

      this is actually a great tactic to remember–you will find that other people are more willing to share their expertise with you when they feel that you’ll give them credit, to bosses, peers, AND yourself.

  22. Stellaaaaa

    This isn’t all that different from general networking, which is always considered a good thing.

  23. Moonsaults

    There are many ways to break into a career and very rarely is it just from qualifications you learn from school or life in general.

    I was given my first job because my friend’s sister was a financial manager and needed an assistant ASAP. She didn’t want to go through the hoops of interviewing for a part time position that would start out mostly just as basic office assistance, filing and emailing remittance advice to vendors.

    Was I lucky? Fu….yeah I was. I was fast tracked into full cycle bookkeeping after a few months because she had time to teach me and I learned quickly on my feet. I didn’t even know that at 19 I’d figure out that I wanted to be in finance and business management, up until I hit the pavement to find a job anywhere when my dreams of going to college were crushed by my parents inability to comprehend how FASFA works and too much anxiety to fight for it more, I had wanted to be a teacher.

    What matters is that you do your job well and you continue to grow in your career path. It doesn’t matter how you got on the path as long as you know that now it’s your path to stay on, you can be lead to a job but that won’t make you good at it.

    The problem people have with “connections” getting you a job is when you suck at your job and you drag down the rest of the crew. When you get special treatment, like acting out or treating others like garbage or showing up to work drunk because your great auntie is the CEO’s secretary kind of thing. Having someone give you a chance is how you get work experience that otherwise, good luck getting a job anywhere else :(

    1. MissDisplaced

      The difference I see also is genuinely wanting to work in that career field.

      When nepotism goes wrong is when the recipient was just handed a “job” they weren’t even interested in in the first place. That is taking it away from someone better qualified and suited for it.

      1. Moonsaults

        I agree with you there for sure. It’s all about wanting to be there and not just “dialing in” a paycheck because you know someone that knows someone.

  24. Charlotte, not NC

    Frankly, I think a bit of nepotism is sometimes the only way out of the “no job without experience/no experience without the job” feedback loop. Many people in my social circle struggled to get an entry-level job after graduating, and most who finally ended up finding something in their fields did so through “friends of friends” willing to give them a chance based solely on someone vouching for their personality/work ethic.

    1. T3k

      Sadly, this. My first internship was the one exception where I reached out and their hired me for the summer. But my second internship? Contact through my mom’s. My first job (that took a year to get) the manager attended the same university. Second job? Was a friend’s job that they were leaving to take another. And as one who is an extreme introvert and was not told to network, finding my next job is proving impossible.

  25. CaliCali

    I’ve been the beneficiary of nepotism before — my first two professional jobs were because someone knew me (both moms of friends) and suggested me for the role/gave me the role. If I hadn’t done well, I wouldn’t have been able to parlay that experience into the jobs I’ve gotten since (which were NOT gathered through any connections). Don’t waste effort in feeling guilty, because it’s what you do with the opportunity that counts!

    1. OP

      You’re right – my guilt feels a little paralyzing and self-indulgent. I am doing a lot with this oppertunity and I’m happy about that.

    2. VeganChick

      A lot of people are not even given the opportunity to gain that initial paid experience in their relevant fields to move up in the professional world and prove themselves. So for the people who don’t have friends with relatives who have clout with hiring, it’s really difficult.

  26. alwaysalwaysalwaysanon

    You are not alone! I am also relatively new to the workforce. I’ve had five jobs since high school and all but one I got through a connection to someone I knew or someone my family knew. I got my current and first, full-time, professional job through an old coworker of my sister-in-law. They say getting a job these days is all about who you know. When I got this job my brother emphasized getting to know people, and basically networking. You’re doing well overall, so just keep on doing well as others have pointed out.

    Also, I don’t know how well you know this family friend, but I would just be yourself around her. If she’s asking about your long term goals she might feel a bit like a mentor to you. I’ve been asked the same kinds of questions that you have mentioned and I respond to it like a polite chit-chat or a friendly how is your day. Some people share more, some people share less, but it’s very common for families and personal matters (like life goals) to come up in the workplace. Just be polite and I’m sure you will come to realize how you want to respond and how much you want to share.

    1. OP

      I think she is trying to be a bit of a mentor to me. That’s a little confusing to me too, actually.

      When she asks me my goals I am not sure how to answer that. I like my current job and the organization I work with, but I’d also consider other opportunities within the next few years. I’d like to move to a city where more of my friends live. Also, I’m very niche. Many people in my position end up getting promoted into jobs outside our niche, and those opportunities aren’t as appealing to me. Essentially my thoughts are that while I really enjoy where I am, in a couple years I’d be open to moving organizations and shifting my field somewhat. It wouldn’t be a drastic shift – sort of applying my existing skill set to a somewhat different context.

      I’m not sure whether that’s appropriate to tell her though? I don’t want to look ungrateful and I’m not sure myself what I want. I also don’t want to look like I’ve got my foot out the door.

      1. alwaysalwaysalwaysanon

        Sorry I came back to this a little late. Personally I think that what you said here if fine to say. Let her know that you are grateful for where you are at now, that you enjoy it, and that you plan to stick around for a while to gain skills and experience. I think it’s fine to say that for now, you’re not sure of where you want your career to go and you’re just keeping an open mind for now.

        Also, since she seems to be a bit of a mentor, why not ask her about her career? Where she started out and how she got to where she is now and did she always know what she wanted? You might get a better sense of the opportunities that are out there and the different paths you could take and look into. Basically, if you can’t figure out what to say to her, try to think of a good question or two to ask her. That might get a more natural conversation flowing.

  27. Mel

    I don’t want to say this because I want it to not be true, but, for so many of us, this is just how it works, OP. Take your opportunity and soar!

  28. RD

    A couple things. First off, it might help to keep in mind that the company may have benefited by this arrangement as well. They are probably paying you closer to the bottom of the pay scale instead of the top. Plus by training you themselves, they get to mold you into the type of worker they want you to be. There aren’t any bad habits to break.

    Also, regarding your family friend pulling you aside to discuss your career aspirations – I think you should speak with her openly and honestly about them, but preferably away from work. She is trying to mentor you. That’s a fantastic opportunity. Don’t let it go. Many people struggle to find professional mentors and you have a relationship already built..

    People talk about family at work all the time. It just seems more obvious to you since this connection got you your job. It’s possible it’s even being perceived that way, but it’s not something I would necessarily notice. I wouldn’t worry about it, but I also think it’s also ok to ask the family friend to keep these discussions out of the office. If you do that, I would be clear on the reasons why it makes you uncomfortable and stress that it’s not personal.

    1. OP

      Thank you! You’re right, people talk about family a lot. I’m probably overthinking it a bit. I have a couple coworkers who talk about their kids a lot, and everyone asks them about their kids, and its totally fine.

      Her questions about my aspirations are confusing to me, I’m not sure how to answer them. Basically there are several factors confusing me. I like the family friend a lot, I am grateful for the opportunity, and I don’t want her to think I’m ungrateful. I like my job a lot and I’ve learned a lot. I am also thinking maybe at some point in the next few years I’d like to live in a larger city where more of my friends live. I am also not sure if I’d enjoy the main opportunities for advancement that seem to be available to my position. I’m considering shifting my work somewhat – not changing my industry, but applying my skill set in a slightly different context. I’m also curious about a Master’s degree in a field that is relatively unrelated but my skills could apply to that field too.

      How much of this is appropriate to tell her? I don’t want her to think I’m ungrateful or have my foot out the door.

      1. Persephone Mulberry

        Honestly, all of this! (Maybe not that you’re mostly interested in the bigger city because that’s where your friend base is, that’s a little off-topic of your professional development). But wanting to explore a bigger city where there are different/more opportunities is valid.

        As for how to broach the subject of taking your career in a different direction than the obvious, you can phrase that as a question – “It seems that most people in my role generally go on to do X – is that accurate? What other options are there for growth from this position? What about Y?” A good manager (and even moreso a good mentor) wants to help their reports grow in the direction that will bring them the most satisfaction, even if that does mean helping them move up and out of the company.

  29. Anonymous Educator

    The truth is the job market is not fully meritocratic, whether it’s family connections, alumni connections, or whatever other connections—having connections helps. You may be skilled, and you may be qualified, but if you’re equally skilled to someone with no connections (or even slightly less skilled than that person), you’re far more likely to get the job. Absolutely pay it forward, but also know that most of your co-workers didn’t get the job 100% because they were objectively “the best” out of anyone out there.

  30. Jake

    I promise that if you are good at your job, not a single reasonable person is going to care at all. I don’t care why anybody is hired, as long as they (and by extension everybody) is treated fairly.

  31. MissDisplaced

    Normally I hate the implications of nepotism. What makes this different (and hopefully makes you rest easier) is that: 1) you did study and/or go to school with the intent to be in this field or type of job, and 2) you’ve actively worked hard while there and don’t expect any special favors. It’s the people that don’t do this that other employees resent.
    Even if you are a bit green they want to invest in you, and there is lots of room for you to grow. Don’t blow that.
    If you treat it as such, no one will care how you got the job, because you do it well.

  32. Wrench Turner

    Yup. You got there because of who you knew. Sometimes that happens, so, congratulations.
    This is the “real world” everyone warned you about. Sometimes it works in your favor.
    What you can do now is work your ass off and learn as much as you can from everyone around you.
    Seek your senior colleagues’ wisdom; learn from their mistakes and bad habits.
    Do your best. The rest usually takes care of itself.

  33. Not So NewReader

    Keep an attitude of gratitude, OP. That will help keep things around you on the level.
    I love Alison’s suggestion of paying it forward. It looks like this woman has decided to mentor you, take notes on how to mentor because it will be your turn in a blink of an eye. If you are a good employee, you will probably become a good mentor, too.
    Not all the rewards of our work come in our paychecks, OP. I think if you ask your mentor if someone helped her she will be delighted to tell you about this person or people. See, she’s paying it forward herself. It’s the circle of life almost. You let her pay it forward through you and you keep in mind that it will some day (sooner than you think) it will be your turn.

    Am smiling to myself. We will never know, OP, but someone you mentor might be a family member of someone posting here. Kind of cool to think about, eh?

  34. specialist

    Fear of screwing up can be a great tool. It keeps you on your toes, so to some extent you should use it.

    You need to look at your situation from a different angle. This highly placed person has likely been watching you go through school and early jobs for years. I suspect they really liked what they saw. They were likely thinking that you would be a great person to catch for their company for some time, and snagged you when the opportunity arose. People in those positions want hard workers who are dependable and produce a quality product. Read some of Alison’s comments. See how she talks about how hiring managers will maintain some contact with qualified people who just didn’t fit the role they were filling at that time? Or the people who have gotten call backs for jobs they didn’t apply for–based on a previous interview?

    Keep doing what you are doing. Work hard, learn as much as you can, and make this person proud of your contribution to the company.

  35. Punkin

    When I worked in Las Vegas (in the 80s), the trick to getting hired (even at entry level positions) at a decent hotel/casino was to have what was called “juice” – someone on the inside to facilitate your hiring.

    The general attitude was “juice can GET a person a job, but it is up to that person to KEEP that job” . I used my very limited juice to help 1 person. He dorked it up. I was embarrassed. Never again.

    1. Punkin

      To clarify – OP should NOT feel guilty about the way the job was obtained. They are contributing & and doing well. My (poorly made) point above is I wish that the person I had helped would have been as conscientious.

      OP – you have nothing to feel guilty about. You have the right attitude. Make your facilitator proud that they took a chance on you!

  36. Chris

    A manager’s perspective on this issue.. I work in a company that, while it has several hundred employees, also has a strong family component to it. There are numerous husband / wife teams, and ‘children of x’ employed within the structure. Honestly, there are a lot of positives. The single biggest negative (and it’s a biggie) is the impression of favoritism. As a manager the team needs to believe your decisions are based on merit and business need. As an employee, if your team-mates feel you receive special considerations based on your relationship, it can poison working relations and erode trust in management. Being up-front about the relationship, identifying that the opportunity is the only favour, and that the related hire will be expected to work harder for less pay than others are good ways to take the wind out of those objections. Placing the hire under someone else’s supervision and staying hands off helps too. Your culture / org may not allow for this. But making it clear to your teammates that this is how you expect to have to work will help.

    1. Pari

      That’s a bit of a difficult position to start from-having your team believe management decisions are based on merit when probabaly the most important management decision (hiring) isn’t.

  37. Pari

    I think it’s good thing that you feel some internal uneasiness about how you got your job. It’s a sign that you are aware of the challenges of people who don’t have those same privileges. Many people don’t get it or don’t think it’s important or personal enough to change their behavior.

  38. VeganChick

    Meritocracy is a false notion when it comes to hiring. Skills do matter but in terms of getting a job quicker without having to take unpaid work for experience or being underemployed, who you know matters ALOT more. People criticize nepotism, rightfully so, because not everyone has an equal footing when it comes to attaining gainful employment.

    But to the OP, just be thankful you were afforded this opportunity and don’t take it for granted. Prove yourself. That’s all you can do. And I agree with paying it forward. When you get in the position of hiring employees, give the person without the experience a chance just like you were given a chance.

    1. Chris

      To be fair, referrals are essentially a pre-vetting as to ‘fit’, if not always as to skill. If someone the manager trusts says ‘this person would fit in very well here, I’d stick my neck out on it’, the manager now has a reference from someone they trust to understand what’s needed in the culture / role. So some aspects of ‘who you know’ simply make sense from the perspective of company team-building.

  39. emma2

    I don’t see any reason to feel guilty as anyone in the OP’s position would have taken advantage of that opportunity, including me. I do like the idea of “paying it forward”. I just recently started working in a field that is pretty much dominated by wealthy, white people (of which I am neither) in an expensive city. People in this field pretty much solely get hired through their family members, boyfriend/girlfriend, or frat and sorority friends. The only way I made up for not having these connections is being able to go to a fancy grad school (on fellowship) – still something most people can’t afford. It is sad to think that this field will never see some very bright employees simply because they didn’t win the genetic/socioeconomic lottery.

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