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Recruitment Myopia or Rational Credentialism? The Debate about Elite schools and Elite jobs

Tue, 13 Dec 2011 23:11:00 GMT

Robert Teitelman writes over at The Deal Economy

There is a fascinating discussion unfolding across the Internet that reaches into all kinds of interesting nooks and crannies. Its origin is a paper from Lauren Rivera, "Ivies, Extracurricular and Exclusion: Elite Employers' Use of Educational Credentials." Rivera, a professor at Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, spent several years interviewing "elite" professional service firms, meaning investment banking, consulting and law firms. Her conclusions, which have been batted around the blogosphere, come down to a handful of talking points: These elite employers primarily recruit from roughly four "super-elite" universities (these differ slightly depending on the area or the individual, and include both undergraduate and graduate recruiting, though it's amazing to see the schools that are considered "second-tier") and care more for the school than for the academic record; busy evaluators have a lot of leeway in deciding who to interview and who not; and (as in college admission) extracurricular activities have become a key secondary filter, but only if they're out of the norm -- playing college lacrosse, say, as opposed to intramural football.

Reading Rivera's paper is a revelation -- and shocking. "Evaluators," she writes, "relied so intensely on the criteria of 'school' as a criterion of evaluation not because they believed that the content of the elite curricula better prepared students for life in their firms -- in fact, evaluators tended to believe that elite and, in particular, super-elite instruction was 'too abstract,' 'overly theoretical,' or even, 'useless' compared to the more 'practical' and 'relevant' training offered at 'lesser' institutions -- but rather due to the strong cultural meanings and character judgments evaluators attributed to admission and enrollment at an elite school." Rivera quotes a recruitment manager at an investment bank who talks about schools that aren't in the super-elite category: "I'm just being really honest, it pretty much goes into a black hole. And I'm pretty open about that with the students I talk to. It's tough. You need to know someone, you need to have a connection, you need to get someone to raise their hand and say, 'Let's bring this candidate in.' ... Look, I have a specific day I need to go in and look at ... the Brown candidates, you know the Yale candidates. I don't have a reason necessarily to go into what we call the 'best of the rest' folder unless I've run out of everything else. ... Unfortunately it's just not a great situation. There's not an easy way to get into the firm if you're not at a target school."

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