I have no idea what I'm doing over the summer. Everywhere I've interviewed for, ranging from animation studios to hedge funds, has either politely rejected me or not yet gotten back to me. I'm naturally frustrated and a little bit anxious over this. It's mid-April. There's still time, but my window of opportunity is shrinking rapidly.
College student from a career-obsessed school panics about internships: more at 10.
I could write a lament for my current situation that I'm sure would resonate with some and would seem wildly unsympathetic to others. Possible responses include: “You picked the two majors people make the most fun of on Reddit, you should go back in time and get a STEM degree instead,” “You think you have problems? Talk about privileged” and “You don’t actually have to do something over the summer, you know that, right?”
Instead, I'm going to talk about what I actually did. I asked my parents for help, because there’s no shame in using every single connection you have, as long as you have the skills to back it up.
Having heard my plight, my parents told me that they could help find me a few different opportunities. If by mid-April, there hadn't been more communication from the places I had applied to, I could sort of leverage some of their contacts and have my summer sorted out.
I wouldn't have to go through video interviews and first- and second-round interviews, I would just have to send a cover letter and resume, and I would already have been vouched for as a competent person. In many ways, this would be more a formality than anything else. The opportunities sound like positions that I would genuinely be qualified for, would be relevant to my post-graduation goals and would lead to an interesting summer doing work I like. Even without my parents' help, I would have have had a pretty good chance at being accepted. In some senses, using my parents' connections could be compared to just skipping the screening phase that — in my eyes — is unnecessary in the first place.
But I feel incredibly conflicted about taking my parents up on their offer. I'm certainly not the first student to lean on family connections, and I'm definitely not going to be the last, nor am I doing anything particularly egregious.
I wasn't particularly bothered by the fact that I was asking my parents for help and potentially bypassing the whole messy interview process. I was more bothered by the fact that it implied that I was unable to get an internship by myself.
Asking my parents for help — not even to get an internship, but to introduce me to people — would be implicit admission of my failure. I find myself comparing myself to my peers (internships at Google! Consulting! The New York Times!) even though their goals do not align with mine. I know this is ridiculous, and I know that in the post-college world, networking is a far more viable strategy than flinging a resume and cover letter into the void.
But I think the more important question is whether I should have asked my parents for help. The real question here is: When do connections and networking turn to nepotism, and to what extent is this ethical, or "okay.” Should I have even asked my parents for help, if their help would give me an edge in a process that is technically supposed to be unbiased? Am I part of the stagnation of social mobility? On the other hand, hiring interns is “unbiased” in the same way that college applications are “unbiased” — that is to say, whom you know is still important.
It's a comparable situation to legacy students, in a way. Legacy students have a much easier time getting into schools that their parents went to. It's a bit of an edge, enough to tip the scales of what is often an essentially random process at a certain level. The pool of qualified applicants far outstrips the number of available slots, and then selection becomes subjective.
In my case, that means swallowing my pride and asking my parents for help. When I raised these concerns with them, they sort of shrugged and told me that this is kind of what adult life is like. And since I was just a student, it made sense to use the connections I had.
There’s that old joke about looking through job applications, that you should throw out half the applications because you don’t want your new hire to be unlucky. It’s a tongue-in-cheek comment on how arbitrary a lot of hiring decisions are, especially when at some level, many applicants are equally as qualified.
And in such a random world, maybe you just need to use every weapon in your arsenal; family connections included.
ISABEL KIM is a College junior from Warren, N.J., studying English and fine arts. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “It Keeps Happening” usually appears every other Thursday.
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