The Power of an Affiliation
I recently read an excellent article by Daniel Gulati entitled, “Be Proud of Your Accomplishments, Not Your Affiliations” and decided to write this post against his thesis that people should not focus on getting hired at prestigious companies or schools, but should instead focus on garnering accomplishments.
That argument sounds a bit too idealistic to me. Just like the phrase “your future depends on you, not your college”, it also assumes that every person is the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. One of the reasons why my generation has had a hard time fighting in this economy is because of the ideology that if we all try hard someday, we can become world-famous – that is simply not true! Gates and Jobs are truly one in a million and not every person is cut out to do what they have done. Most people have to do it the hard way: that is where the affiliation helps.
What does a prestigious affiliation do? It essentially gives a person more chances “at bat”. As any baseball fan knows, the more chances you have to bat, the higher your chance of striking out. In the same way, a prestigious affiliation gives a person more chances to interview and consequently land the “dream job” that most people want.
For an average person, this can make all the difference. Most people are not entrepreneurial or ground breakingly innovative (even if we somehow all got much smarter, most of us still wouldn’t be innovative because the “innovation curve” would just move to the right and so only those people, as it is now, at the very far right would get noticed) so the college or first job really makes a difference. For example, I come from a top 50 school that is not known outside of the engineering community and so traditionally prestigious non-engineering positions such as investment banking, financial analysis at the Big 4 Tech companies and management consulting (at Bain, McKinsey, etc) are not recruited for here.
Why? Because my school is not part of the non-engineering “pedigree”. The best students at my school are just as talented as the best students at any Ivy League school, but the Ivy Leaguers will have more chances to interview for positions than my classmates. In essence, the association helps the Ivy Leaguer to get more chances to hit the ball. For my classmates to even be noticed, they have to network like madmen (or women), fill out countless job applications and somehow stand out from the crowd – something that my friends from more prestigious universities really don’t have to subject themselves to. Yes it’s unfair, but that’s life.
In conclusion, the affiliation helps immensely because the average person at Harvard, Princeton, or Goldman Sachs will have quite a few more opportunities than the average person at my school or a traditionally less prestigious company. I am of course ignoring the possibility that the average person at an Ivy League school may also be smarter and more innovative than the average at my school because no study has been done on that. I also believe that, after a certain point, most people are equally talented hence I have decided to not include that as a factor.
I should point out however, that the author of the article went to Harvard Business School for his MBA.
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