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Business Connections, Not Friendships, Help with Career Advancement

In Russia, the role of connections in career success is important, but connections through friends or family and business connections can contribute to careers in different ways. While business connections help those who have already earned a good professional reputation, friends and family can give one’s career a headstart, but their role often stops at this, according to a team of researchers* of the HSE's Centre for Study of Social Organisation of a Firm (CSSOF)

The research reveals that Russians view connections as an important factor in professional and financial success. The vast majority of survey respondents in Russia agree that connections are vital for getting a well-paid job.

Russian researchers, however, do not think much of such an informal approach to hiring and view it as a way of compensating for institutional deficiencies or as a sign of traditionalism in Russian society.

The use of informal channels in hiring is not specific to developing or transitional societies, but international authors, in contrast to Russian researchers, view this phenomenon in a more neutral, non-judgmental way, according to CSSOF deputy director Evgenia Balabanova. According to some estimates, personal connections account for 50% of hiring in the U.S.

Both business (professional) and clan (friends and family) connections can help with getting hired and advancing one's career. Effective business connections, in contrast to clan connections, usually indicate a good professional reputation among peers. Balabanova examined the findings from a survey of more than 600 Russian professionals and line and mid-level managers to see which connections are more likely to help with getting employment in Russia, how connections work with different jobs, employee personalities and company profiles, and whether connections can help with further promotion once hired. The survey was conducted as part of the research project 'Specialists and Managers in Contemporary Russian Business: Factors and Trends' and covered 17 private companies in Moscow, Nizhniy Novgorod, and Rostov-on- Don.

Business Connections Contribute to Work Satisfaction

According to the survey findings, business connections are more important in finding employment, getting employed, and being appointed to positions of highly-resourced employees, which include employees of foreign companies in 'prestigious' sectors (41% of respondents from this group mentioned the use of business connections), managers (37%), people with specialist training and work experience (34%), and professionals aged 30 to 39 (35%).

In turn, those respondents most likely to report the use of connections other than professional – i.e. involving friends or family – included younger employees aged 19 to 24 (74%), employees of Russian companies in 'prestigious' sectors (73%), and respondents from the provinces (71%).

Table 1: Employees' Social Capital

According to the survey, respondents with business connections reported higher rates of work satisfaction and were more likely to be loyal to the company. Balabanova notes that business connections can go together with either professional (i.e. specialist training and work experience) or clan (family and friends) social capital.

In contrast, people who have landed a job through a friend or a family member, but lack business connections or relevant training and experience, tend to be less satisfied with their work and often wish to change jobs.

Table 2. Use of formal and social network-based channels of job search, % of valid responses, N=518

Job search channelsMoscowProvincesRussian companiesForeign companiesPrestigiousNon-prestigious
Formal (ads, state and private employment agencies, sending out resumes)443544354039
Social network, total  566555666061
Professional networks (educational institution, former workplace, contacts made at professional events)354129473641
Clan connections (family members, friends outside one's professional sphere)212426192420

Getting a Job through the Back Door Only Gives You a Head Start

Balabanova concludes that business connections are much more important than clan connections for landing a good job in Russia.

She found that friends and family connections played a significant role only in cases of recent career advances. Balabanova suggests that social connections unrelated to one's profession may give a head start to job applicants who are less competitive – e.g. looking for their first job, returning to work after a long period of unemployment, or leaving a 'bad' workplace for a 'good' one. “Getting a job through friends or family members provides a one-off advantage, but further promotion requires business connections, which may be even more important than formal qualifications,” the study concludes.

Balabanova notes that promotion through business connections comes close to promotion on merit, but the jury is still out on whether professional social capital is based on specialist knowledge, skills, and performance beyond formal qualifications or whether it is acquired through loyalty, conformity, office politics, and pleasing one's superiors. Balabanova believes that the nature of social capital in Russia’s corporate world needs further study.

*The project has been implemented by the Centre for Study of Social Organisation of a Firm with financial support from the HSE Faculty of Management led by Professor A.G. Efendiev.


Author: Marina Selina, June 19, 2014