Class of 2012 member 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 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.," 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 compare 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, Mandrone helps prepare a state-funded telephone survey of some 40,000 citizens to learn how Italians find their jobs.
"The issue of 'raccomandazioni' isn't, do you find work or don't you," said Mandrone. "Rather, the problem is, you take work away from someone who is better."
Mandrone said the price of the "raccomandazione" system to Italian society and economy has not been quantified in financial terms, but it's clearly "huge."
Italy's connections culture has long been blamed in large part for spurring the "brain drain" of many of Italy's best and brightest. The Institute for Competitiveness, a non-profit Italian think tank, recently estimated that brain drain costs Italy some euros 1.2 billion (more than $1.5 billion) annually in terms of lost patent and other royalties from inventions that highly qualified emigrants from Italy developed while working abroad.
In Greece, ground zero for Europe's financial crisis, a vast connections-based political machine is seen as a major factor in the economic implosion. In return for votes, the major parties slotted job seekers with political connections into cushy bureaucratic jobs — with little experience or qualifications.
The result: When the financial crisis erupted in late 2009, the government didn't even know how many people it had on its payroll or how much it was paying them.
Germany may be an exception to the trend of European talent taking flight or being stymied in realizing professional dreams. In former communist East Germany, who you knew in the party apparatus was very important to climbing the economic ladder. But in today's united Germany, connections are not seen as a major part of corporate culture.
Class of 2012 member Lutz Hentschel, 27, who completed his master's in electrical engineering earlier this year, sent out about 40 applications before landing a job in Berlin developing electrical circuits for elevators.
During his job hunt, he said, he was once interviewed for a job that ultimately went to a less qualified applicant who knew the interviewer.
But, in Germany, said Hentschel, "if you are qualified, you will get a job in the end,"
Britain grapples with another longstanding system of patronage — its "old school tie network" that conjures up images of men sporting school blazers or hobnobbing in exclusive gentleman's clubs. While Britain has made great strides in becoming more meritocratic, complaints remain rife that access to prestigious jobs often relies on upper-crust social background and education.
In southern Europe, however, the culture of "raccommandazioni" permeates all social classes and sectors — from landing a job in a bank to winning a building contract.
Carrai, the linguist and aspiring international law expert, ruefully learned how much connections count even in the rarefied world of academia. She moved to Hong Kong to escape the stifling atmosphere of university nepotism: "I saw how it worked. I didn't want to stay in Italy and stick with this system."