De-meriting the merit system

It seems that in the professional world, it’s all about who you know, not what you know.

Sumaiyya Lakhani June 21, 2011
Pakistan is notorious for multiple reasons - ranging from terrorism to illiteracy and poverty. Recently, however, I feel that our merit system has seen a bit of a downturn.

It seems that in the professional world, it’s all about who you know, not what you know. And for fresh graduates like myself, that is indeed quite demotivating. My friends and acquaintances will start with the:
“my dad knows the head of HR at company XYZ so I’m going to be starting there from next month.”

And i’ll wonder what relevance a social sciences degree will have in the finance department. Aah, but there is relevance. It lies in having contacts.

This phenomenon has served to destroy the concept of getting to where you are because of what you are, to the point that you need a contact, even if you want to make sure that someone takes the time to give your resume a cursory glance.

We keep complaining about the job market being bad. Is it really bad or is it bad just for those people who happen to be unfortunate enough not to be acquainted with an influential key person in a good organisation?

If organisations continue to prefer hiring employees with internal references, contrary to hiring those who might be a better fit, then they might, in the long term, be harming their own productivity. Also, what motivation would current student and potential employees have for wanting to excel and be innovative if they they’ll be stuck in a rut because of the kind of social circle they have access to?

This practice might very well end up having negative effects on the economy as a whole, because a labour force lacking incentive would not be giving anything its best shot.

I think that employees need to be more rational and impartial when deciding who to hire; for the sake of their own organisation if nothing else.
Sumaiyya Lakhani A sub editor for the Sunday pages of The Express Tribune.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Usman Qureshi | 12 years ago | Reply Forgive me in advance for the assumptions that I make, for they are many, but from the way you write it seems evident that you are, at the very least, from a middle class background. While you bemoan the inequitable manner in which people gain employment, which, I hasten to add I completely agree with, doesn't the apparent advantage of your class of people over the working class in terms of educational opportunity similarly smack of unfairness? You are correct, and more so Shan who has rightly nuanced this debate, but the absence of meritocracy is felt even more acutely by those who have to bear the disgrace of an education system that is government education. Educational achievement is centered around passing a string of public examinations. The middle and upper echelons of society have the advantage of private education and academies. These institutions are geared to ensuring that their clients know how to work the system and pass these exams. The teachers are fairly well educated, often hailing form similar backgrounds themselves. Class sizes are relatively smaller, parents are supportive and the kids often don't have any other responsibilities other than to focus on their studies. The chances of those students succeeding is significantly greater than those who come from poorer backgrounds; you're right, where is "the concept of getting to where you are because of what you are?" If you feel that your life chances are mitigated by someone else having better contacts, imagine being born into a class of people who, by virtue of their status can only aspire to wash and if they're lucky, drive your father's car. If we're serious about these issues, they need to be tackled more holistically. The middle class need to stop worrying about how they can aspire to become the bold and beautiful and reflect more on the state of our country and how it is being abused by the politicians to fuel their insatiable greed!
Shan Rizvi | 12 years ago | Reply While your analysis is spot-on, I think it is also important to identify the difference between hiring the one with a reference over two qualified people and hiring a less qualified person because of a reference. The former, I would argue, is inevitable because that is just how us humans are; it happens all over the world and there are many reasons for that (guarantee, reciprocity, networking, etc.) The latter is where the real problem is at i.e. when references become more important than competence rather than being differentiating factors between two equally competent people.
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