Connections became less critical during Spain’s economic boom from the late 1990s until 2008, but now are proving crucial again in a country with unemployment at nearly 25 percent.
“In Spain, you always had ‘enchufismo,’ but at least in boom times, you had access to interviews and work [without connections],” said Maria Astilleros, an unemployed teacher in Madrid. “Since the crisis hit, the interviews have ended and we’ve gone back to ‘enchufismo.’”
Ms. Astilleros recently secured her first job interview in two years, with a public relations company, because the owner is a client of her uncle.
Gayle Allard, an American professor of managerial economics at the IE Business School in Madrid, estimated that about 95 percent of jobs in Spain depend on connections.
“It was one of the things that shocked me in Spain,” said Ms. Allard, “that you could only move around in the labor market with contacts.”
The professor said that such an ingrained culture of nepotism has a corrosive effect on economic growth, which is more crucial than ever as Spain reels under staggeringly high youth unemployment of nearly 53 percent.
A culture of connections
Spain is “definitely not a meritocracy,” Ms. Allard said. “You’re probably not getting the best qualified candidate for a job. You’re just getting the candidate with the best contacts.”
Moira Koffi, who recently completed her studies at the prestigious Sorbonne university in Paris, talks about the importance of connections in France: “If you are recommended by someone, it’s the first thing you say: It’s how you get a job.”
While Ms. Koffi, a 22-year-old communications grad, has herself benefited from the system, she still wishes connections weren’t so decisive in finding employment.
“In the U.S.,” Ms. Koffi said, “people give you a chance because of what you are.”
Sorbonne sociology professor Jean-Francois Amadieu said that 70 percent of French people find a job through personal connections or through an internship — which itself is usually only possible with the right connection.
“Youths from modest backgrounds have great difficulties finding internships, compared to those from the middle or wealthy classes, because of more restricted family networks,” he said.
In Italy, the connections culture “has grown even more with the worsening of the economic crisis,” said economist Emiliano Mandrone. He’s well-positioned to know: Every year, Mr. Mandrone helps prepare a state-funded telephone survey of some 40,000 citizens to learn how Italians find their jobs.
“The issue of ‘raccomandazione’ isn’t, do you find work or don’t you,” said Mr. Mandrone. “Rather, the problem is, you take work away from someone who is better.”