I don’t know about you, but I was told that the person who’s the most qualified and the hardest working gets the job. But, it turns out, at many companies, it’s just not.
I first learned this lesson in graduate school. I attended Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s beautiful. When I was studying for my MBA, I wanted to get an internship at The Gap. I assumed they would come to my school to interview students, but they didn’t. They went to UCLA (UCLA is ranked higher).
So, I posed as a UCLA student to land a job interview. It worked. While the UCLA students showed up in jeans and t-shirts, I arrived in a suit, with business cards and resumes. The Gap invited me to their corporate headquarters for meetings. But ultimately, they decided not to extend an internship. One of the reasons for the decision was, they have a specific list of schools they hire from. Pepperdine was not on that list.
This sounds unlikely, but it’s true. I went to a prestigious undergraduate school. There were also employers who would only hire from a small list of elite schools. Back then, I never thought about how unfair this really was. And, I landed my first internship at General Motors without ever having an interview. I remember that my boss said to me, “I didn’t need to interview you. You go to RPI. I knew you would be good.”
Fast forward to today. I was listening to a podcast called Revisionist History, hosted by Malcom Gladwell. Mr. Gladwell has taken a deep dive into the world of law school. As the episode begins, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is speaking to a group of law students. One student asked Mr. Scalia, “…what do smart, hardworking students need to do to be outrageously successful in the law?” Mr. Scalia answered, “…I can’t afford a miss. I just can’t. So, I’m going to be picking from the law schools that basically are the hardest to get into. They admit the best and the brightest. And, they may not teach very well. But, you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. If they come in the best and the brightest, they’re probably going to leave the best and the brightest.”
Mr. Scalia went to Harvard. He’s saying that he hires from the very top law schools. Anyone who didn’t go to one of those schools, he won’t consider. And it turns out, very often, companies hire in the same way. If they don’t recognize your school or your past employers, it may not matter how qualified you are.
This method takes the burden off of employers to truly determine what makes someone the best. And, it means that the name brands on your resume could matter more than the experience that sits behind them.