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Pedigree: Book Review
Pedigree analyzes how employees are chosen for super elite jobs: management consulting, investment banking, and big law. The author, Lauren Rivera, watched the recruiting process of dozens of elite firms including 110 interviews and 90 resumes.
The recruiting process of all firms can be broken down into 3 parts:
1. School Event Recruiting
Elite firms only recruit out of a handful of schools.
“Core schools are the three to five highly elite institutions from which firms draw the bulk of their new hires. Firms invest deeply at these campuses, flying current employees from across the country—if not the globe—to host information sessions, cocktail receptions, and dinners, prepare candidates for interviews, and interview scores or even hundreds of candidates every year. Target schools, by contrast, include five to fifteen additional institutions where firms intend to accept applications and interview candidates, but on a much smaller scale. Firms typically set quotas for each school, with cores receiving far more interview and final offer slots than targets.” - Lauren Rivera
Core schools typically are on the ones on the top of the US News Ranking (Harvard, Yale, Columbia) or ones that are very close by like NYU. The management consulting and law firms go above and beyond to ensure the core college students have a great experience. They hope the students will hire them when they hold positions of power as businessmen or politicians.
On the other hand, students outside of the core group were usually completely ignored.
“unlike candidates from listed schools, who submitted their résumés to a designated review committee at a firm, students from nonlisted institutions had to apply through a firm’s website, usually submitting résumés to a general administrative email address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org). These applications were placed into a “separate stream,” and were not considered as seriously as those of core and target candidates, if they were considered at all (often, no specific personnel were charged with reviewing these applications). In many firms, especially those that were the most prestigious in their field, an application from a student at a nonlisted institution was discarded without review unless the applicant had an individual sponsor who could get the student into consideration through the “back door.”
2. Resume Screening
The most important part of the application was the college you went to.
“ Evaluators drew strong distinctions between top four universities, schools that I term the super-elite, and other types of selective colleges and universities. So-called “public Ivies” such as University of Michigan and Berkeley were not considered elite or even prestigious…”
“ Evaluators relied so intensely on “school” as a criterion of evaluation not because they believed that the content of 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…
It was not the content of an elite education that employers valued but rather the perceived rigor of these institutions’ admissions processes. According to this logic, the more prestigious a school, the higher its “bar” for admission, and thus the “smarter” its student body.”
“In addition to being an indicator of potential intellectual deficits, the decision to go to a lesser known school (because it was typically perceived by evaluators as a “choice”) was often perceived to be evidence of moral failings, such as faulty judgment or a lack of foresight on the part of a student.”
Extracurriculars were the second most important part. They had to be impressive and show that you were energetic and ambitious.
“ Across the board, they privileged activities that were motivated by “personal” rather than “professional” interest, even when activities were directly related to work within their industry (e.g., investing, consulting, legal clinic clubs) because the latter were believed to serve the instrumental purpose of “looking good” to recruiters and were suspected of being “resume filler” or “padding” rather than evidence of genuine “passion,” “commitment,” and “well-roundedness.”
“They differentiated being a varsity college athlete, preferably one that was also a national or Olympic champion, versus playing intramurals; having traveled the globe with a world-renowned orchestra as opposed to playing with a school chamber group; and having reached the summit of Everest or Kilimanjaro versus recreational hiking. The former activities were evidence of “true accomplishment” and dedication, whereas the latter were described as things that “anyone could do.”
Grades were mainly used as a cutoff. For example many firms had a 3.6 GPA cutoff for application to be considered.
The interviewers mainly wanted to see if you were fun, social, and extroverted.
“…. Evaluators frequently perceived work in their firms as requiring only a minimal number of specialized skills. Although the pitches that firms made to prospective recruits and to clients underscored that they hired only the best and the brightest, evaluators commonly described their work as “not rocket science” and cited the extensive training given to new hires as minimizing the importance of prior technical knowledge for job success.”
“Professional services are client-centered industries in which satisfying customers entails providing appealing packaging as well as quality performance. An adequate level of polish or “presence” (evaluators used the two terms interchangeably when referring to a candidate’s styles of communication and self-presentation) was an important, job-relevant requirement. Firms sought individuals who not only fit socially with other employees, had drive, and showed genuine interest in the job. As they talked with candidates and listened to their stories, evaluators also looked for people who would, as consultant Jordan put it, “show well.”
Is this a good way to hire?
The author, Lauren Rivera, thinks this is a terrible way to hire people. She believes these companies miss out on a bunch of great talent from disadvantaged backgrounds and place way too much emphasis on prestige.
I disagree and think that this way of hiring works pretty well for these companies- not completely perfect of course. These super elite companies(Mckinesy, Bain, Baker McKenzie) have billions of dollars in revenue by selling the “expertise” of young college graduates with no real life experience. Bain & Company makes $450,000 per employee! The only way this could be possible if the young people employed were super impressive and prestigious. Next to their name, their elite university degrees and extensive resumes would be listed next. Additionally, the young employees would have the ivy league polish and social skills to impress clients. These employees function as prestigious and well educated salesmen.
“I went to a tier 1 state school with top 5 engineering and top 15 business, that is not UVA, UCLA, UoM.
I was the only student my graduating year to get interviews at all three MBB for full time. Substantial "scrappiness" was required, and I even had an MBB partner condescendingly ask why I'd subject myself to going to this school given my resume, during my final round case.
Across all three MBB, my school is lucky to see 3 full time hires. Landing an interview is a serious lift in networking (who is going to talk to a nontarget plebian?) , and even in the interview room, there's a perception hurdle you have to clear, that an art history major from Princeton has no problem with.
Of course, it makes sense financially to hire the marginal student from Harvard. But let's not pretend it's not silly, for example, to prefer NU or UoM engineers over UIUC, where the program is stronger. School prestige colors the entire process.
In industries where technical competency actually matters such as software engineering, no one is ever going to Harvard for the marginal student in a random degree over a top state school STEM kid. Consulting recruiting is absolutely prestige oriented, for better and worse. Without this subreddit I'd probably not be in consulting.
Disclaimer: I'm biased as an immigrant without the priveleged family background of many students at top ranked schools, and I also didn't get an MBB offer. And I'm a white dude. “(From reddit thread)
“I was a partner in a B4 when we did a bunch of targeted hiring of MBA students from top schools (Harvard, Stanford etc) and often a less stellar student from a top school would get the job over a superior student from a non-top school. We were very realistic that we were primarily paying for the top school MBA's network and where that network would be in five years. Remember that selling involves a huge ability to get work from your network and an average student from a top school is very likely to have a better network from a non-top school.” (From reddit thread)