Mark Granovetter is famous for uncovering the strength of weak ties in job searches (i.e., that weaker ties ironically are more helpful in landing jobs than one’s close friends). Granoveter, after interviewing job seekers, posited that it was because one’s close friends tie one back to jobs and job leads that one already knew about whereas weak ties connected one to jobs that one hadn’t heard of.
Sandra Smith, sociology at Berkeley, is doing interesting work uncovering the why. She’s interviewed 157 workers of various races and various job levels at a public university (Berkeley?) to learn of cases where they did and didn’t help people land jobs and what was good or bad about the experience. Smith notes that in Granovetter’s work the job seekers often don’t know exactly what or was not done by their strong or weak tie. [Her past work has been on how distrust hurts low-income blacks in the job referral process, but this new work, as of yet unpublished, is more general.]
It turns out, that people generally don’t refer their close friends to jobs for two reasons: 1) they are more worried that it will reflect badly on them if it doesn’t work out; and 2) they are more likely to know of the warts and foibles of their close friends and believe these could interfere with being a good worker (e.g., Jim stays up late to watch sports, or Charles has too much of an attitude, or Jane is too involved with her sick father). Weak friends one can more easily project good attributes onto and believe this will work out.
She spoke of one interesting case, “Redmond”, who worked in a growing university department that was hiring 30 new people and whose manager asked workers to help refer good employees. Redmond was asked soon thereafter by the parking attendant at his church whether he knew of any jobs for his wife who had lost her job (both the parking attendant and his wife were Ethiopian immigrants in the US and lived at Redmond’s church). Redmond barely knew either of them, but took many steps to advance her candidacy (driving her to the interview, introducing her to people at the office, checking on her candidacy, and getting information filled out again when the paperwork was lost, etc.). Redmond also had 10-15 good friends who needed a job, but he only told 2 about the available jobs, and even for those 2, didn’t take any steps to advance their candidacy since he had reservations about them.
In some cases, people did intervene on behalf of family or friends, but sometimes this was more lukewarm (e.g., enabling their applicant-friend to put the job-holder’s name on the applicant as a referrer, but making no efforts behind the scenes to advance their candidacy).
The job holders seem to put the interests of the workplace generally ahead of the interests of their friends, perhaps because they are jealously guarding their workplace reputation would could be sullied by a poor referral. The job holders act as “moral” gatekeepers, trying to keep out the unworthy.
Smith is working to try to categorize types of job assistance and what leads one to help a friend/relative vs. helping a weak tie, and whether this assistance is to help the friend or improve the workplace.