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by Vault Education Editors | January 13, 2011


File this under Things You Sorta Already Knew But Still Piss You Off to Hear: When recruiters from top firms in consulting, investment banking and law fail to spot the names Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford or Wharton on your resume, they stop reading and toss that sorry thing into the loser pile along with the rest of the second-class candidates from MIT, Columbia, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell…

Sorry, but that's what a new forthcoming study reveals. It's a rigged game, all pipelines and pedigree. At the top-top firms at least. The author of the study, Lauren Rivera, is an assistant professor in management and organizations at Northwestern. She was privy to an inside look at the hiring process at one such elite firm (name withheld) and apprised of the screening methods used by leading company recruiters, according to a story in The Chronicle of Higher Education. And the things they told her…

There's regular elite and there's super-elite. M.I.T. is the former.

You will find it when you go to like career fairs or something and you know someone will show up and say, you know, “Hey, I didn’t go to HBS [Harvard Business School] but, you know, I am an engineer at M.I.T. and I heard about this fair and I wanted to come meet you in New York.” God bless him for the effort but, you know, it’s just not going to work.

And what if you went to Rutgers? What of your resume? “I’m just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole,” said one investment bank manager. Columbia, depending on the investment bank, can be considered first tier or second tier.

Even a candidate's academic performance wasn't as important to employers as credentials. From the study's abstract:

Educational credentials were the most common criteria employers used to solicit and screen resumes. However, it was not the content of education that elite employers valued but rather its prestige. Contrary to common sociological measures of institutional prestige, employers privileged candidates who possessed a super-elite (e.g., top four) rather than selective university affiliation. They restricted competition to students with elite affiliations and attributed superior abilities to candidates who had been admitted to super-elite institutions, regardless of their actual performance once there.

Once you pass through the initial screening, then you need to pass the next test. After a super-elite degree, employers want to know a hire won't be “boring,” a “tool,” or a ”bookworm." So they look for "extracurricular accomplishments, favoring high status, resource-intensive activities that resonated with white, upper-middle class culture." A blueblood test of sorts.

One exception to the rule is no less depressing—that old job-hunting mainstay of knowing someone. If it's not where you went, it's who you know.

All of this ridiculousness, it's wrong and infuriating, but is it really all that surprising? You have to remember, this study only speaks to a few of the top firms in the most competitive industries. It's not saying this happens at all companies. It's just a sliver of the companies out there. And, even so, there's no harm in trying; there are always exceptions. The question to ask, I think, is, Do you commit to a willful blindness to the way things work and keep chugging merrily along, or do you feed your sense of injustice in order to work that much harder and be the one who proves the exception?

[The Chronicle of Higher Education]



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Filed Under: Education|Grad School