talent

Why I'd hire from "middle of the road" schools over Harvard

You've been given this scenario a million times while applying to colleges. 

A hiring manager has one spot open on their team and they're deciding between two candidates. Both have the exact same qualifications except one went to a top tier university and the other went to a middle of the road school. Who are they going to choose? 

Be honest, who would you pick? 

To preface this, I'm not taking digs at those who earned an education from a prestigious university. I'm also not basing this off personal experience but rather my opinions and observations. 

I would choose the candidate from the unknown, mid-tier school.

Candidates from mid-tier universities have skills that are not taught to the Ivys or Big 10s of the world. Mid-tier candidates have passion, hustle and grit. For someone from a lesser known school to get to the same professional level of a conventionally elite candidate is not by accident. It's because that person worked for it - and not by getting a 4.0 GPA. 

Students who go to well known schools have the opportunity of doors opening for them everywhere they go. At university sponsored job fairs, world class companies line up just to get their attention and once they have that, they do everything in their power to recruit the "best and brightest". Dinners, networking events, gifts, free flights to out of state interviews. For these students, it's not about if or when they're going to get an offer, it's for how much and the signing bonus that comes along with it. 

These same candidates are able to walk into rooms at non-professional social events with those around them asking for their time to chat or pick their brain simply because of their academic background.

Having opportunities handed to them isn't best way to describe it but they definitely have things easier. 

What's interesting is all this prestige is mostly based off grades and standardized test results. Things that don't really matter in the professional world. 

Now let's look at the flip side.

Those who went to a lesser known university may have the grades but couldn't afford the "better" schools, prefer to be somewhere with a smaller class size or liked their programs better. Maybe other universities just wouldn't accept them because of their grades and test scores. These factors do not make them poor candidates for world class companies, it makes them better. 

Large, well known companies do not attend their university job fairs. They do not receive gifts or dinners and if they have an out of state interview, they're paying for travel. Others around them at social events are not interested in "what they've been up to" because once they find out they've never heard of their academic institution, the disappointment in that person's voice is telling enough. 

These same students are frequently looked down upon by those from better known schools. Many of them don't even see the potential of themselves because they've been labeled as "unsuccessful" before receiving a diploma. Come graduation time, they're just happy to have an offer that doesn't include a signing bonus. 

They frequent job boards applying to companies who have qualifications like "candidate must have graduated from a top tier university". Many of the world's top companies won't even see their resume because they've been filtered out before it even reaches a hiring manager. 

These candidates take an unconventional approach to their career. They network with people who are from all backgrounds. They get extremely creative on how they reach hiring managers. They go to great lengths to just get noticed because there isn't another option. 

Companies should give mid tier university candidates more credit than they currently receive. They bring a different perspective to the table. One that isn't the same as all the others that were hired from the same university job fair major companies attend each year. After all, if they continue to hire from the same schools, they get the same results. There's no change. 

Mid tier candidates who have reached this level work smarter. They don't mind spending extra time learning new skills to help your company. They don't judge others based on what school they attended. They're optimistic and put extra effort into their work without complaining because they're grateful someone believed in them.

We're reaching a society where traditional academia won't be relevant. Companies that aren't exploring options outside of prestigious universities are putting themselves out of business. It won't happen right now, but our near future is bringing us to that point. 

I haven't read other articles about this topic and I'm positive they exist. I'm writing this because it's something that needs to be addressed more often. I also know that in most cases, I'm wrong about this topic. However, I'm correct in believing there are several strong candidates out there who are overlooked because of what school they attended. 

A few of you will read this, some of you will agree, most of you will disagree and that's ok. My hope is this topic crosses your mind in the future. The next time you take a chance on mid tier candidates, you're making an investment in your company's future.