When do contacts become nepotism?

Mary is a very successful businesswoman. One day she hears from a friend that a large cooperation is looking for a contractor to do some work. She mentions that her son Bill runs a small company which might fill the bill (!). He gets the contract and the company becomes Microsoft.

(That is actually what happened in real life).

Now I do know the importance of contacts better then most I feel. And I do not hesitate to say that, I can see no impropriety in the Gateses actions at all. It does raise the issue thought, When do contacts become nepotism. We are supposed to cultivate contacts and avpid nepotism. Is it not at the end of the day the same thing.

At the very least, I expect to find a blood relationship between the hirer and the candidate.

It’s only nepotism of Bill’s own mom hired him, not some friend. What you’ve described is networking, not nepotism. Now, if Bill had been hired* over more qualified applicants*, that would be favouritism of some sort.

Or a marriage relationship - hiring your own brother-in-law could still be nepotism.

The questions for me would be; if Mary hadn’t suggested Bill, would the same procedures have been used to find a contractor? If not just Bill but many people had been suggested, how would they have selected between their options? Did Mary suggest Bill because she believed he was the most suitable person for the job, or because he was her son?

The similarity between having contacts and nepotism is the blood- or friend-link, but it’s not that alone which makes something nepotism, it’s why they got the job that tells us that. Did they go through the same selection process as everyone else, treating them as just another possibility? Then fine. Did they receive preferential treatment, or skip some steps, or get chosen despite the process finding another more suitable? Then you have a problem.

It was just one of dozens of companies trying to get ahead. Now, they succeeded, because they took the opportunity that they got and never looked back. They point is that they got into the door through contacts. While we can argue about qualified applicants all day, IRL there are usually many more qualified persons/entities than there are position and getting that first step is probably more important than anything else.
Networking/nepotism…the difference seems to be one of degree rather than substance.

No, the difference is one of substance.

In networking employees cultivate contacts to get opportunities to be hired, and employers do the same to get quality applicants. The opportunities are still opened up to the market and if someone more qualified applies, they get the job.

In nepotism/favoritism employers give the opportunities to someone they know, qualifications be damned.

Of course there’s a risk of favoritism when someone with networking contacts competes with someone without, since there’s a large subjective component to judging the suitability of a candidate, but they are separate concepts.

So, when some worker drone put up his friend Neil’s astronaut application, despite it being time barred that was networking/nepotism*(friendism?).??? (Also happened).
While extreme examples, like appointing your son-in-law as commander of the Navy for his birthday might qualify as nepotism easily, I submit that in most cases due to the large amount of qualified applicants, the difference is not one of anything but degree. You go with a recommended/known quantity.

Networking, to me, is expanding the circle of people you know. Who might one know early on? Wouldn’t it be familyand friends?

When a friend of mine in a realty office hires me to do some work, that might be seen by some to be ffavoritism. If she alerts me to submit a bid, that’s networking. And when I hand out business cards to the realtors in the office, that is networking, too.


It’s not “a matter of degree” if a condition is absent in one case and present in the other. Nepotism is a case of favoritism, but it has as a necessary condition that the person be related (by blood or marriage). People can be favored for reasons other than familial ties. Fraternities, race, religion, and all sorts of group membership play into this.

A couple of months ago, I had need of a plumber.

I didn’t have a plumber “on-call,” or experience from any previous plumber hires.

But I knew someone who had recently had plumbing work done. That person had hied a plumber with poor results – a dramatic overcharge and a refusal to fix work he had done that still had problems. I chose to avoid hiring that plumber. He had then hired a second plumber, who according to him did a fantastic job, and even gave him a break on price in light of the fact that he was paying twice for work – even though obviously the second plumber had nothing to so with the failures of the first.

I hired that second plumber. I was very pleased with his work, and just last week, someone at work mentioned needing plumbing work done for a bathroom remodel. I sung the praises of the plumber I had hired, and my co-worker hired him, even though the plumber was based somewhat outside the normal geographical area my co-worker would have looked.

Isn’t that how business is supposed to work?

I say that when you’re hiring an unknown, you look for ways to reduce the risk of hiring a dud. Sure, you can craft an exacting contract, sue the non-performer, but those are generally worse outcomes than having someone that can do the job well.

When you hire someone because someone else recommends them – for whatever reason – you are trying to reduce the risk. Now your hire is not an unknown. You feel that Bill won’t do a bad job for you, because he won’t want to embarrass his mom. You have eliminated, or at least reduced, your perception of the risk.

Recently I decided that our company really needed to scan and electronically archive the hundreds of boxes of documents which are slowly taking over every corner of the office.

My boss, who is a C-level, and has been with the company for over 15 years (I started last December) has a beloved neighbor who owns just that sort of company. She was ready to have him come in the next day to perform this $20k worth of work.

It didn’t take more than a twitch of my eyebrow to make her realize, that no, we’d be getting at least three bids and making a best value decision before handing out this work, no matter how small the job.

In the end, it was clear that her neighbor is the best choice, at the best price, with the best facilities and experience.

So hiring her beloved neighbor was not nepotism, but it could have been, and very nearly was.

The really interesting part is that either way, the responsibility did not lie with the neighbor, it lay with me. He was networking. It’s how the decision was made on our side that decided whether it was nepotism.

I would say that nepotism is a subset of favoritism, with the favoritism being based on familial ties. The line between favoritism and networking is rather fuzzy. If the purpose and end result is making a more informed choice and reducing risk, then it’s a positive. I recommend my friend Bill to my professional contact Ted, because I know Bill is a genius programmer who has a problem taking exams (so has no certification or degree), then it’s all positive if he gets hired over someone with a degree. If I’m not in between, and Ted hires Bill because he is a friend and knows he is a genius programmer, then it may still be positive, but is likely to be perceived as negative. It’s hard to sort out whether Ted’s judgement is clear enough, and people are going to assume that Bill was hired because he was a friend, not because of his skills.

People who are outside the “in group” often see the line between networking and favoritism in a different place than those inside. I worked at a company where there was an often repeated joke about the place being run by the Irish and Italian Mafia. Literally out of over a 1500 corporate staff you had fewer than 10 people who were not in those groups 15 years ago (and all those Asians in IT). People seemed to be genuinely shocked that never hiring anyone not known to someone else in the organization had a discriminatory or harmful effect.

Even seven years ago when there was a reduction in force when the first proposals put forward by the managers would have wiped 10 out of 11 Asians in corporate (the IT guys had been outsourced). When legal and HR objected, the outrage was telling. They just picked people to lay off who weren’t “protected” by someone higher in the chain. Or they were doing it by seniority. Ten different managers picked the only Asian on the team to be laid off without any racial animus that they were aware of.

So it’s a subjective judgement then? Which is my point in any case.

It seems that it’s networking when the job is done well and nepotism when it’s not. Or when you are the beneficiary or when you are not.

Substitute favoritism for nepotism, and I think you have it.

The second it starts working to the advantage of someone other than yourself.

Nepotism: An employment practice whereby relatives are hired in preference to other job applicants and receive special favors because of their familial connection.

Roberts Dictionary of Industrial Relations, 4th Edition, by Harold S Roberts, Senior Professor of Business Economics and Industrial Relations Director, Industrial Relations Center. Bureau of National Affairs Inc. 1993

No, that was a simple violation of the application protocol. Albeit one of little significance to the program, even if it, in retrospect, was monumentally significant for Neil.

When you get to this level, it brakes down into two parts. First, an Employer can choose to ignore its’ own rules unless they are specifically referenced in a Union Contract, therefore the Employer can hire to a vacant position whenever it damn well pleases. Second, hiring a friend of a current would be called cronyism. Perfectly legal. Face it, Employers’ have most of the rights (thanks Taft-Hartley).