Does an Ivy Education Get You Better Job Prospects?

Published: May 29, 2013

 Interviewing       Job Search       Networking       

"To get to Yale, you effectively must pass through a fifteen year funnel. No company can match that kind of screening rigor, so why not leverage it?"

That is the key argument in a Yale student's Hacker News rebuttal to Thomas Friedman's New York Times piece entitled "How to Get a Job." (Hint: it's NOT an Ivy league diploma, according to him).

But, as important as "skill match" and problem solving abilities are in today's job market, does resourcefulness and inventive solution-finding really trump a big name education?

In traditional fields (Law, Banking, Accounting, and Consulting), the answer is absolutely not. And though the gap is closing in information technology and creative fields, it does still exist—in a pretty big way.

In Friedman's essay, he quotes an education expert as saying the “The market is broken on both sides,” and that “many applicants don’t have the skills that employers are seeking, and don’t know how to get them. But employers also ... have unrealistic expectations.” They’re all “looking for purple unicorns: the perfect match. They don’t want to train you, and they expect you to be overqualified.”

This is certainly true—companies don't want to take risks on new employees who don't have demonstrated skills. In fact, many companies don't want to hire young people at all. But this argument doesn't really support a turn against name brand education. Especially since new grads simply won't have any experience to tout at job interviews. How can a new grad show a track record of success with no work history, unless they point to a challenging and high-achieving academic run?

Problem solving abilities are irrefutably important to getting hired, but they need to be demonstrated. And though, as Sharef, the education expert notes, “skills you need in the workplace today are not being taught by colleges," that doesn't really affect the perception of those skills for an interviewer. And when it comes to perception, few words elicit an emotional response quite like the names "Yale" or "Harvard." Those names say "successful" and "effective." And they said it loudly.

As Yalies on Hacker News note, we're all out of college as "blank slates." The playing field is level—unless you've been tipping it in your favor via education. No recent grad has that perfect 2-years of experience at a similar company to the one hiring, plus proficiencies in all the appropriate software programs. But alumni of Ivy schools do get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to seeming like they can learn quickly. Proficiency in adapting to challenging situations; ability to stay motivated; competitive spirit; these are "skills" that a name brand education project for you. Especially if you have no other way of proving you have them.

Alma Mater is still shorthand for achievement. The job market may be changing, but this is one tenet that's staying the same. At least for now.

As a commenter notes, "I find it quite amusing that Mr. Friedman tries to minimize the importance of an Ivy League education in the same paragraph in which he finds it important to mention that the "education expert" he is quoting is a "Harvard education expert."

What do you think? Is too much importance placed on college name? Is an Ivy alma mater an unfair advantage? Tell us in the comments!

--Cathy Vandewater,

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