How Do Jared Kushner and Other Seemingly Unqualified People Get Powerful Jobs?

Kushner and Trump
Donald Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

There’s that episode of The Office where Creed gets promoted to manager. Or in Arrested Development, Gob becomes president of the Bluth Company. Or how about Joffrey’s ascendance to the Iron Throne in Game of Thrones? All are examples of completely unqualified people landing in positions of power. Though our examples are fictional (and some more consequential than others), we’ve all seen similar things take place in real life.
How do they do it? When you see a friend, family member, or colleague finagle a job offer out of thin air, you’re definitely curious as to how they did it — especially when you know they are woefully unqualified.
You can rig your resume to hit on all of the right beats. It can contain buzzwords or be specially crafted to make work experience look a bit more robust than it truly is. You might also just have an in at the company. Or in some cases maybe you just luck out.
But looking at some of the more high-profile people out there — many in very powerful positions — it can make you uneasy. A lot of these people aren’t just drawing a big paycheck. They’re also making big decisions. And they’re creating policy. Sometimes they’re making life and deaths calls on the fly. And when they seem to be in way over their heads or are incredibly unqualified, at least on the surface, it’s troubling.
Here are 10 people in serious (and less serious) positions of power who make you wonder, “How did they get that job?”

1. Conan O’Brien

A young Conan O''Brien and Andy Richter
A young Conan O’Brien and Andy Richter | James Sorensen/NBC/Getty Images

Conan O’Brien is perfectly qualified for the job he has now. But when he first broke onto the late-night scene, many were wondering just where O’Brien had come from. He had been a writer for a time before going in front of the camera, including an SNL stint. In 1993, however, when he was tapped to take over for David Letterman on Late Night, it was quite a shock. Slowly but surely, Conan won over legions of fans and is now as famous as they come.
Now that we’ve gotten started on a lighter note, let’s dig into some more serious players on the national stage.

2. Betsy DeVos

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos | Alex Wong/Getty Images

Betsy DeVos was nominated and confirmed as the secretary of Education under Trump. She came under heavy fire for being unqualified — and deservedly so. In fact, her biggest qualification seemed to be the fact that her family had donated more than $200 million over the years to the Republican Party. So far, she’s living up (or down) to everyone’s expectations.
And no, we’re not done with the Trump Cabinet just yet.

3. Ben Carson

Ben Carson
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson | Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Ben Carson is incredibly qualified — just not for the job he currently holds. Carson is a renowned neurosurgeon and has made quite a name for himself as a doctor and an author. But he’s currently leading the Department of Housing and Urban Development, something he seems to know little about. Like DeVos, Carson’s post was more or less given to him because of his role in (or around) the Republican Party.

4. Jared Kushner

Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, walk down the West Wing Colonnade.
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, walk down the West Wing Colonnade. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

How does a 30-something with no relevant experience become a senior adviser to the president? By marrying the president’s daughter, that’s how. Jared Kushner is catching a lot of flak for his role. And given that Trump seems to think he can single-handedly solve all of the world’s problems, it’s justified. Kushner, like DeVos and Carson, might be a perfectly decent human being. But even he should know he’s in way over his head.

5. Michael Brown

Michael Brown, a high-ranking FEMA official, shows then-President George W. Bush maps of Florida areas affected by Hurricane Charley.
Michael Brown, a high-ranking FEMA official, shows then-President George W. Bush maps of Florida areas affected by Hurricane Charley. | Stephen Hayford-Pool/Getty Images

You might not remember Michael Brown, but he was the guy who was in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the mid-2000s. He gets a lot of the blame for the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. But we have to look at why President George W. Bush even picked him for the job in the first place. He had very little experience in emergency management and was more famous for running Arabian horse shows than anything.
Let’s turn back the clock even more now, by about 1,900 years.

6. Commodus

A visitor takes a picture of a bust of Roman Emperor Commodus.
A visitor takes a picture of a bust of Roman Emperor Commodus. | Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Commodus was a Roman emperor and son of Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s more esteemed leaders. You might remember Commodus from the movie Gladiator, in which he was portrayed by the actor Joaquin Phoenix. All told, Commodus’ reign was tumultuous (to say the least). He was a bit of a narcissistic, paranoid pretty boy and was ultimately assassinated. So how¬†did he get the job? The same way many other unqualified people do: nepotism, or by birthright.
On the topic of nepotism and ascension by birth, there’s one world leader who’s clearly in over his head. Can you name him?

7. Kim Jong Un

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un inspects a catfish farm.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a catfish farm. | KNS/AFP/Getty Images

Kim Jong Un: He’s the man who became North Korea’s leader after his father, Kim Jong Il, died several years ago. His family has been in control of the country for generations now, and it’s safe to say it’s not going very well. Kim is causing international upheaval by expanding North Korea’s missile program, and you’d have to think there’s little chance things will end well for him.
On a lighter note, how would you like to receive the reins to an incredibly popular magazine fresh out of college?

8. Gus Wenner

Gus Wenner
Gus Wenner | Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Meet Gus Wenner, who was surprisingly handed control of Rolling Stone magazine by his father, Jann Wenner, in an announcement in 2016. Wenner, at the fresh young age of 26, doesn’t seem qualified for the position, but we’ll have to give him a chance. It’s a prime example of the type of nepotism and favoritism that drives people absolutely crazy. He heads digital operations for Wenner Media, which controls publications, including Men’s Journal.

9. Chester Arthur

United States President Chester A. Arthur
United States President Chester A. Arthur | The National Archives/Newsmakers

If you’ve never heard of President Chester Arthur, you’re forgiven. He became president after James Garfield was assassinated in office. Arthur wasn’t a bad man, by most counts, but it seems he wasn’t quite presidential material. He had never held elected office before and liked to sleep in until noon. As vice president, he was pretty much supposed to be an empty suit — but when Garfield died, he was in the limelight.

10. Paris Hilton

Paris Hilton at a boxing match
Paris Hilton at a boxing match | Nicky Loh/Getty Images

We’ll end with a name we all recognize: Paris Hilton. Though Hilton has faded from the spotlight in recent years, there was a time during which she was everywhere. She appeared on TV and in movies, and she even put out an album. But it was curious, of course, because she didn’t seem to be all that interesting or talented. In fact, her namesake was what helped get her attention — again displaying favoritism that makes a lot of people upset.