What does your brand say about you?

Friday, July 12, 2019, Vol. 43, No. 28

I was taught long ago the most-qualified and hardest-working candidate gets the job. Turns out that’s just not so at many companies.

I first learned this lesson in graduate school. I attended Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s beautiful.

When I was studying for my MBA, I wanted to get an internship at Gap Inc. I assumed representatives would come to my school to interview students, but they didn’t. They went to UCLA (UCLA is ranked higher).

So, I posed as a UCLA student to land a job interview. It worked. While the UCLA students showed up in jeans and T-shirts, I arrived in a suit with business cards and resumes.

Gap invited me to its corporate headquarters for meetings but ultimately decided not to extend an internship. One of the reasons for the decision was it had a specific list of schools from which they hire. Pepperdine was not on that list.

This sounds unlikely, but it’s true. I went to a prestigious undergraduate school. There were also employers who would only hire from a small list of elite schools. Back then, I never thought about how unfair this really was. And I landed my first internship at General Motors without ever having an interview.

I remember that my boss said to me, “I didn’t need to interview you. You go to RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). I knew you would be good.”

Fast forward to today. I was listening to a “Revisionist History” podcast hosted by Malcom Gladwell.

Gladwell has taken a deep dive into the world of law schools. As the episode begins, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is speaking to a group of law students. One student asked Mr. Scalia, “…what do smart, hardworking students need to do to be outrageously successful in the law?”

Scalia answered: “…I can’t afford a miss. I just can’t. So, I’m going to be picking from the law schools that basically are the hardest to get into. They admit the best and the brightest. And, they may not teach very well. But you can’t make a sow’s ear out of a silk purse. If they come in the best and the brightest, they’re probably going to leave the best and the brightest.”

Scalia went to Harvard. He’s saying that he hires from the very top law schools. He won’t consider anyone who didn’t go to one of those schools.

As it turns out, companies very often hire in the same way. If they don’t recognize your school or your past employers, it may not matter how qualified you are.

This method takes the burden off employers to truly determine what makes someone the best.

And it means the name on your resume could matter more than the experience that sits behind it.

Angela Copeland, a career influencer and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.