You’re hired, Johnny!

Summer jobs, nepotism, and other unfair discrimination.


First year has finished, too quickly for comfort, and the search for a decent summer job is by now long over for those smart enough to have begun it back in January. Those who have left it to the last minute are likely destined for pizza places and dish pits. Unless, of course, one is lucky enough to reap the rewards of nepotism, that power of connection that lands the otherwise unspectacular candidates coveted internships and other plum positions.

My own summer job is at least partially the result of a personal connection, as are the jobs of many of my friends. To find summer work in the Federal Department of Justice or at Canada’s High Commission to the UK, to name a couple examples, is next to impossible for the average 18-year-old first-year student without personal connections.

Is it fair that someone who, completely by chance, is born to a powerful family, should be afforded more opportunities than someone who is born to poor parents? Even if it isn’t fair, is it even possible to overcome, to control, to enforce equality over nepotism?

On a grander scale than the student summer job market, recent conversations with some of my more socially conscious peers have illuminated the deeply entrenched and often subconscious nature of unfair discrimination in our society.

For instance, one study, which followed more than 300 participants throughout their lives from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, found that “attractive adults are more able to procure aid from bystanders, they often have greater social influence, and they are favored in the job market and in the criminal justice system.” Once hired, attractive men and women have also been found to make more money, while income inequality between men and women is a well-known problem of discrimination.

Systematic discrimination against immigrants is another well-known phenomenon. One survey focusing on the experience of Latin American MBA graduates in the Canadian job market found that “75 percent of the respondents referred either to a general and unspecified sense of differential treatment due to not being Canadian or to the perception of different treatment based on accents or lack of Canadian experience.” Of course, discrimination against Hispanics in the United States is much more explicit, as demonstrated by the recent conviction of a 19-year-old Rhode Island man who killed an Ecuadorian immigrant while engaging in the widespread activity of “Mexican hopping,” which is essentially hunting for Hispanics to assault.

A University of Toronto economist found further support for the trend of discrimination in hiring processes when he sent out more than 6,000 resumes to Toronto-area employers. On some resumes, he changed the last name to an Asian sounding name and left all the qualifications the same. He found that resumes with non-Asian sounding names were 40 per cent more likely to be called in for an interview.

Such are the challenges facing pretty much everyone except good-looking white guys, apparently. Reaping the sweet fruits of nepotism is one easy way for us summer job seekers to help perpetuate the various unfair forms of discrimination upon which our society is built. See what a cynic first-year has made me?


You’re hired, Johnny!

  1. Sure the world is unfair in countless ways, but I don’t think it’s entirely coincidence that you happen to be your parents child.

  2. You took my advice to heart! Much easier to read and more interesting.

  3. If we’re speaking of “unfair”, I’d like to raise the issue of unpaid internships, a device which essentially lets the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Sure, who wouldn’t love to have an internship working for MTV, CBC, etc? But the fact of the matter is, students of lesser means can’t afford to take an unpaid internship. Unpaid internships are a privilege for the rich; those who can afford not to work and have Mummy and Daddy bail them out with extra cash. These students get the valuable experience others can’t, as well as financial security from their parents, and in the end get further ahead in the workplace upon graduation. I commend any company that has the guts to actually pay for its student labour and truly provide equal opportunity.

  4. To heck with unpaid internships. I would argue that ALL internships are unfair. Why should university students be offered special opportunities that other individuals, who may have learned information in other ways, do not have access to? That, in and of itself, is discrimination against the poor. A lot of people can’t afford to go to university at all.

    The main reason I’m in school now is because I need an internship to get where I want to go next in life. It’s not because I’m not already qualified. I have as much, if not more, real-life experience in my chosen field than a lot of the second or third year university students I’ll be in school with. I also have 10 times more secondary qualifications…the result of having lived 20 years longer than they have. However, after talking to mentors in the company I want to work for, it became clear to me that entry-level contracts go to interns, and anybody who tries to get in any other way is at a distinct disadvantage.

    Even more galling are the situations–that used to exist when I was younger…I’m not sure if they still do–where the government tops up the salary of a paid intern so that the company can get them for 50% of the going rate. There’s nothing more annoying than knowing that my tax dollars are giving someone else an unfair advantage over me in the job market.

    It’s all very unfortunate. Companies are only doing a disservice to themselves by refusing to consider the best and the brightest regardless of education (and it’s not like you really learn much doing a liberal arts degree). The government discriminates against the poor when it helps them do this. I wish I could think of a solution.

  5. “(and it’s not like you really learn much doing a liberal arts degree)”

    Just had to get that dig in, didn’t you?

  6. Hey, I’m speaking as someone who’s pursuing one myself.

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