Nancy Ditomaso on The New York Times Opinotator blog writes how “Black” Twitter and your Facebook friends who put extra sayings in their names like Natasha Ohsofine Washington, are not helping you get a job. This is because they don’t know anyone. This is unlike your friends on “White” Twitter and their Facebook friends who don’t have clever handles because they might know someone who has a job connection and everyone knows fancy job places don’t hire people with elaborate nicknames as googleable public record.

As if it weren’t hard enough with black unemployment at 13.2 percent, now you have to worry about how you don’t know anyone who, as 90s era Master P would say, “got the hook up.”

From The New York Times:

Favoritism is almost universal in today’s job market. In interviews with hundreds of people on this topic, I found that all but a handful used the help of family and friendsto find 70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them.

And …

Help is not given to just anyone, nor is it available from everyone. Inequality reproduces itself because help is typically reserved for people who are “like me”: the people who live in my neighborhood, those who attend my church or school or those with whom I have worked in the past. It is only natural that when there are jobs to be had, people who know about them will tell the people who are close to them, those with whom they identify, and those who at some point can reciprocate the favor.

Because we still live largely segregated lives, such networking fosters categorical inequality: whites help other whites, especially when unemployment is high. Although people from every background may try to help their own, whites are more likely to hold the sorts of jobs that are protected from market competition, that pay a living wage and that have the potential to teach skills and allow for job training and advancement. So, just as opportunities are unequally distributed, they are also unequally redistributed.

All of this may make sense intuitively, but most people are unaware of the way racial ties affect their job prospects.

Before the whole “blacksnob” thing happened and back when I used to look at Essence Magazineand The American Prospect and other magazines and wondered how people got to be writers there, I used to say my parents’ only sin was that they didn’t know anyone. And by “anyone,” I mean I grew up in the Midwest with an engineer father and an ex-school teacher mother who had no connections to the worlds of art, television, journalism, film and writing I wished to be part of. So even though I was writing my first crappy novels at 13 and drawing elaborate cartoons and art pieces even earlier than that, I didn’t get much more than a nice pat on the head and some attaboys.

What to do with my talent? No one really knew, including myself. We would go to the occasional art show or writing competition and just marvel at how everyone seemed to be in on something but us — the only black people there.

Connections are how you get jobs. But you can’t make connections unless you either are A) born into them B) go to the right schools and live in the right neighborhoods or C) get the right kind of jobs where you meet people. But often you can’t get the “right” kind of job unless A or B happens. You need the connection BEFORE you get the job to get the job with all the connections in the first place. Since I went to Budget University and was not born in a major east or west coast city and my first gigs were in Midland, TX and Bakersfield, Calif., I needed an equalizer to get out of obscurity.

For me, that was the Internet and blogging, but I STILL needed to move to New York and Washington, D.C. to make the connections you need to get work, to stay in the forefront, to get offers and gigs and opportunities. I needed that network and I could only get it by going out there and creating it.

The same exists for jobs in engineering and accounting and other white collar positions where family and friend networking hook-ups are crucial in a work environment where black unemployment is more than 13 percent.

In the same piece, Ditomaso writes that for workers: “70 percent of the jobs they held over their lifetimes; they all used personal networks and insider information if it was available to them.”

That’s a lot of friends and family helping friends and family. And when so much of life is about who you know, what do you do when you don’t know anybody?

  • MarloweOverShakespeare

    Thank you for writing this. The “It’s not what you know but who you know” mantra/advice/warning still continues to beat us (especially recent college grads like me) over the head, but it is so true. I just helped a friend of mine get a job this past weekend. A just recently got my full-time job by simply tutoring/volunteering alongside the manager (whom I’d never guess would be my boss one day). Never underestimate the power of connections and volunteer work. You never really know who has large pull in your community unless and until you put yourself out there and show your face. Can’t expect everything to fall in your lap because you have all the skills in the world.

    I used to hate/resent having to “know people,” until I got blessed. Don’t give up hope folks! It’s rough out here, but you can do it!!!

  • Right

    The right connections are a big part of it. The best way for most black folks to get connections is to go to a good school and impress the right people and try to work under them as a research assistant or something so that they can put in a good word for you. But education IS key. You just can’t have connections and no skills, but there are opportunities for black people to get mentors and help. The easiest way is to make good grades and use your professor’s office hours. Apply for internships where you can meet other people who can put in a good word for you. Keep adding experiences to your resume. As someone mentioned above, things don’t just fall in your lap. The hookup is real, but it is not as hopeless for black folks as some make it seem.

    And you don’t have to go to a school like Harvard. Most states have at least one school good in most areas or there is a state nearby with good universities. There are good state schools with faculty that are wll known in their fields. you dont have to be at the best schools to meet people who can boost your career. Making a good impression on professors at a smaller school and also participating in internships and other resume filling opportunities make a big difference.

    That being said, in my opinion I think it is much easier for black folks to get help with the hookup for white collar jobs. I think the hookup is a bigger problem for blue collar jobs.

  • Joan

    You almost have to be like a politician in the workplace in order to be successful. Treat everyone nicely because you never know who is watching you and you never know who can help you. I used to work for a university. I wanted to move to a higher level position in another department way across campus. I owe a lot of my success to my friendship with a campus maintenance person. We would often talk when I stayed late at work and because I mentioned to him that I was interested in moving on to another department, he gave me a lot of inside information about people’s personalities in that department! He told me all about a very difficult person that I would have to supervise. Because of his information, I was very prepared and I was always five steps ahead of her. LOL. This impressed my boss because they had lost other people because of this difficult person. (I mentioned that I had the ability to work well with people who are considered difficult; I viewed it as a challenge to find their best talents and working style. I even gave examples from previous positions. The boss almost fell out of her chair…they called me that afternoon and offered me the position. LOL!!!!) I knew before going in and prepared myself. I knew how to disarm her..and EVERYBODY was happier because of it. They thought I had some sort of magical charm…No, I was just prepared. So, I highly recommend not only being friendly with upper management and peers, but also cleaning, maintenance and security staff. They know EVERYTHING. LOL!!!! And if they like you, they will look out. Find out what they like, their birthdays, kids’ graduations, and remember to give them Christmas gifts. ;)

  • L

    Sad I have to say this but the only “who you know” system that is present in black culture is with those Sororities and Fraternities.
    It’s known that alot of people only join for the job connections. Sad but true.

    It’s true that if you don’t have the family with alot of connections or the personality to make your own connections, job searching will be hard. But not impossible. Believe it or not, Good ol hard work is still a way to get in the door.

    Until we kill the selfish attitude most blacks have above seeing the next black achieve, there will never a connection system.

  • Pseudonym

    That NYTimes piece was extremely classist and I don’t think the author even realized it. I would say this applies when comparing higher-educated people with either a bachelors from an impressive school or a terminal (eg. PhD, MD, JD) degree bc you’ll meet more white people from connected backgrounds vs non-whites who are on their way to being “self-made.”

    However, for the other majority of people (black, white, Latino, Asian, etc.), they seem to be all in the same boat. Some careers and communities are good for connections (nursing, construction), but they are in the minority.

    I only bring this up bc I feel the NYTimes piece is making that oh-so-American error of only using the wealthy and connected to represent the ENTIRE white American demographic when- in fact- they are in the very small minority. That white connectedness that they are trying to sell does not exist for the majority of the white American population.

  • DEE

    Yes, having family or friends that know people or networking is everything. Sometimes I get kind of jealous of my brother because he’s an extravert who joined a frat and as soon as he left college someone hooked him up with a job. Yet for some reason I never grew out of the weird awkward/shyness phase so I have a really hard time going out and networking.

  • GeekMommaRants

    In today’s working world requires that we market ourselves and our skills. The introverted outside of programming must learn this. We now must brand ourselves.

  • JN

    I’m sorry, but networking is ESSENTIAL. at my last job I was the only person there who got her job without networking. Networking is not just about family and friends either. It’s about getting to know people via internships, making sure you get introduced by someone, meeting people after their panels and presentations, and showing a genuine interest in the work of people you wish to work for.

  • bob

    Networking is crucial I used to get jobs whenever I needed them in two weeks or less because I was in a good circle of friends. but they played me so I stepped out of that circle and it took me months to find work with out help. But once I was working I was able to sell myself to other employers. Networking is important, but so is being highly competent in what you do and how you present yourself. and how you connect to the people interviewing you.

  • Ami Blake

    This is something I’ve been thinking about lately, not only as I am graduating but also reflecting back on all the things I could have been. Having no connections its nearly impossible to get there. I’m only 22 but I feel like I’m missing out. Everyone says if you try hard enough you’ll get it but I know thats true. Nepotism lives and hurts the industries they utilize it in. I can see a lot of companies passing on true talent to hire someone they have connections to and hurting themselves for it. This is human nature though. Sticking with the evil you know…

  • annaleishamae

    Learn a language like Mandarin or Arabic. It helps to give you an edge.

  • KC

    Networking can happen anywhere, even at the crappy jobs so you always have to put your best foot forward. In college I worked a retail job at some thrift store. Years later, when I became one of the long term unemployed I ran into my old boss from the store. I mentioned I was looking for work with salary and benefits so she referred me to a friend of hers who is a hiring manager in the corporate world. After her glowing recommendation, I got the job. A job I definitely would not have gotten on my own.

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  • Thinkpositive!

    We need to create networks with like-minded people in positions to hire. There is value in referral programs. I have noted that people of color are overly scrutinized, continually tested and have their abilities continually doubted by peers, subordinates and support staff more so than whites. This “racial tax” is burdensome and counterproductive to corporate efficiency. Increasingly businesses that embrace diversity will prevail in the marketplace in this growing interconnected world. Racism and the associated biases are corrosive and have no place in a performance based organization that depends on utilizing everyone to their full potential. It doesn’t matter who comes in off the street to apply for a job. If an employee has a referral, regardless of whether s/he is the best candidate for the position, the referral usually gets the job. I’ve always found this an unfair practice. Since the number of African Americans that hold decent, livable wage-earning jobs is much lower than that of white Americans, fewer referrals come from them. A majority of successful employed blacks hesitate to reach out and pull in other blacks for fearing of being taken less seriously in the workplace. It is almost as if their co-workers feel that one is enough. They do not network to the advantage of other blacks.

  • Mademoiselle

    I’m like you — networking definitely is not an inherent trait for me. But when I was studying for my master’s an alum told me that you don’t have to stop being shy or an introvert to network, just be purposeful about it. When you’re going somewhere that you know you’ll be able to network, prep some go-to small talk beforehand (if you’re like me), or see if you can get the guest list beforehand so you can look up who’s going to be there and target who best aligns with your networking goal, or go with a networking partner to help motivate you to work the room. Be you, but find ways to use your characteristics to your advantage. Then when it’s all over, treat yourself to a nerve-soother (quiet time, good book, light music, warm bath, glass of wine… whatever brings you back to center).

  • BeanBean

    It’s true, it’s all about who you know. I just got hired at for a job last week and I didn’t even go through an application process. A long time employee said, “I’ll put in a good word for you.” Next thing I know I got the job, without an interview! Networking is key, even if you have to pretend to like people you really don’t. Black people need to start building up our own economic infrastructure, that’s the ONLY way things will improve.

  • Apple

    Connections only work if people are willing to help you

  • Kacey

    Yes! And don’t forget to be nice to the secretaries and receptionists – they are often the gatekeepers. I know of one manager who always consulted her receptionist regarding the lobby/waiting room behavior of interviewees. Those poor saps had no idea that their fate was in the hands of a “lowly” receptionist who they sometimes treated dismissively.

  • Teflon Jawn (@Author_JGail)

    Amen! You have to be friendly and open to people, even those you don’t know yet. I had to learn that myself after graduating, having been a bit of an introvert in networking scenarios. Don’t be afraid to strike up random conversations. Closed mouths don’t get fed. Learn people’s names and use it, people like to hear their names. Tell them they’re great at what they do and ask for help to get better at it yourself. Avoid an “I know-it-all” attitude because that turns people off… if you knew it all you wouldn’t need that extra help getting the job/career you want! When you have a positive attitude/thought pattern, positive things tend to start happening around you. <3

  • Humanista

    I’ve personally learned that conferences are good places to meet people. ALL people. Don’t dismiss peers/students if you are one, or anyone who is not a higher-up or may not initially seem *of use* to you. I just got a highly sought-after job thanks to a random tip from an unemployed recent graduate I met at a conference a few weeks ago.

    I am very uncomfortable w/ the idea of “networking” in the way that it’s generally defined, so if you’re like me, it’s okay. Just focus on being genuine, and if you have a professional spark (lol) with someone, nurture it–you never know. But don’t force it. Networking relationships aren’t totally different from any other kind. Don’t try to approach people like a car salesman; develop real relationships and contribute genuine conversation. People know when you’re BS-ing or “needy”.

  • justanotheropinion

    I work in an industry that is mostly white male (finance). I can’t tell you the advantages that their kids (and their friends kids) have in finding employment. They aren’t even qualified, but they get the jobs. All it takes is a phone call from ‘daddy’ to his contacts or to a friend and they are in. These connections get them into the right schools, the right internships and the jobs right out college and beyond…qualifications be damned. Internship programs that are full – no problem.

    On the flip side, I’ve also seen promising candidates come in for interviews, with no connections, and they have their job prospects killed because they were rude to the receptionist or a laborer in the elevator.

    Bottom line – connections mean EVERYTHING. If you aren’t from a place that has connections, you are certainly at a disadvantage. But don’t stop – keep pushing forward. But remember that all eyes are upon you – you never know if what you say or do will get back to someone. There’s an old saying: Be careful of the toes you step on when you are on your way up – they are the same asses you will have to kiss on your way down. You don’t know who knows who – keep it straight at ALL times – it may be the only advantage you ever have.

  • Joan

    OMG, that is so true! I have known more than a few managers who do this. Too many people don’t realize the importance of being nice to everyone.

    Also, when the secretaries, cleaning staff, maintenance staff, security staff and IT staff all like you, it puts you in a position of power. You’re the person who can possibly resolve certain issues that others might not be able to resolve because of who you know. You might be able to get parking passes and visitors passes much earlier. You’ll get office furniture moved faster. You’ll hear when the new computers come in before everyone else gets on the list. And if someone is trying to screw you over, you’ll hear about that, too. When I worked at a university, I was very nice to my student workers. Because of that, they all let me know about a certain colleague who was a real snake…and they looked out for me. LOL.

  • Trenia

    I have been telling young people this forever, learn a language and other marketable skills that can be used across industries and in the global market. Excellent point!

  • CeeCee

    I’m going to be honest, I am not a huge fan of networking.I think this whole networking thing came about with the popularity of social networking. Now you need to have Linkedin and a multitude of other connections with people who know someone who know someone. I feel as though you should get a job based on your skills, education, and experience. At the end of the day, just because your friend’s with this person who knows that person who is a manager does not mean you are qualified for the position. I interned at a long-term care facility for Alzheimer and dementia patients for three months. During the course of the three months there were two employee overhauls; not once, but twice the entire staff was fired (Director of Nursing -DON, LVN’s, Phlebotomist, CNA’s, CMA’s, x-ray techs,), hell everybody was fired. When I came to intern, it seemed as though there was always a new DON giving out assignments to interns. The facility director fired everybody because the DON would hire her friends and their friends. The DON’s buddies would claim to care for patients, but they didn’t, and the DON knew that it was going on, but didn’t care because she was to busy gossiping at the nurses station. I don’t want people to think I am exaggerating, cause I am not, but come to find out, one of the phlebotomist didn’t know how to draw blood, a few CMAs didn’t know drug classifications, and there was a patient with MRSA and several nurses didn’t know how to proceed on with infection control measures. What made the situation worse is that the MRSA patient escaped the room (she was in isolation) and one of the nurses was walking around screaming for help and ask me what to do; then told me to get my nursing preceptor ( I got some crazy stories ya’ll).

  • Lynne

    Ummm. Dang, CeeCee. I’d better stock up on my vitamins.

  • Lauren

    Fraternities and sororities may be networks, but that’s not the only way to build connections. People can join professional organizations, volunteer, attend conferences and mixers, etc. The key thing is to put yourself out there and genuinely build relationships.

  • Lauren

    Despite the article talking about wealthy Whites, you can’t deny that Whites look out for other Whites no matter their class status. Networking goes beyond class.

  • Leo

    If you are in a position of authority you normally get requests to help friends, church members, etc. to help them find jobs in your orginization. For those of us who work in positions of power: How many of you have helped people find jobs or “to do a favor” as we say and the individual turned out to be a bad employee? Often times that’s one reason why some people don’t hire folks based on referrals.

  • Kay

    I’ve seen that happen. In fact, at my friend’s old organization the president of the company was hiring all his friends and relatives. As a result of hiring people he knew, and not people he knew who could do the work, they’re organization has gotten slapped with lawsuits, the accounting practices are horrible and sponsors have quietly taken their leave and not renewed contracts. Networking is fine, and even giving someone who is a friend of a friend a chance is good, but employers have to sometimes give clearance to a fresh face who may not know anyone but is good at what they do.

  • Come On People

    I really don’t think you have to be in a position of power to help others. Be visible. Speak to everyone, help those around you. By doing that you can get information about up can coming jobs and opportunities. If people like you, they will give merit to your referals.

  • jj

    I went to an hbcu which helped me connect to my community. Almost all of my jobs came from the name but when i went to mainstream no one knew me. I kind of had to choose bc if i work for a company that doesnt value my contribution i wonder do i need to b there its harder to start a company but sometimes i think its best ppl sho shoo and poo poo on places like black enterprise for newer and slicker but i think they still hold a great deal of value.

  • coloredgirlsbookclub

    That old saying ‘its not always what you know, but who you know” doesn’t always work out for Black people. Sadly, we are not always eager to pull up our own, and other races tend to promote “within” … its a loose, loose.

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