You've heard now how CEOs and Movie stars manipulated the system, bribed people, made up sports teams, and arranged for their kids to cheat on SATs and ACTs in order to get into "good" schools.  But, have we stopped to think about why it's so important to get into the "right" schools?

Yes, some schools have better academic rigor than others. That's clear. You will get a better education at some schools than you will at others. That is also clear. What is not so clear, though, is why it's worth huge bribes and risking jail to get your child into the "right," school. And I'll tell you why right now: Bad HR.

Human Resources, through recruiters (and to be honest, many people think these functions are completely separate, but I have never seen in-house recruiters that don't report up to HR), make these fancy degrees far more important than they really are.

See, degrees are what we call "proxies," for intelligence and the ability to do hard work. We know (or we used to know) that if you have a degree from Harvard you are smart and hardworking. We are letting Harvard's admission office make the determination that you are smart and then once they do that, it's stamped on your forehead for evermore.

I'm certainly not denying this logic: no company has the time or wants to spend the money to thoroughly test any candidate's actual in-depth knowledge. We let the schools do it for us. But, then, what happens after your first job really shows failures.

If someone comes to us from a community college and struggles, we put them on a 90-day improvement plan and then kick them to the curb. If someone comes from the Ivy League and then struggles, we hire an executive coach to help them, figuring it must be us, not them.

If someone comes from the local no-name university we give them an entry-level position. If someone comes from a big name school, we put them into our future leaders' developmental rotational program so that they can rapidly learn all areas of the business.

For a lot of jobs, it's not what you know, but who you know. One of the key tips for getting a job is to skip the recruiters and try to get straight to the hiring manager. This works and it's advice that I give as well. But, have we stopped to consider why this works and why it makes getting into the "right" college so important?

Getting into the best schools is about a good education, but it's also about making the right connections. Not only do you have alumni in top positions that are willing to help out another [insert mascot], but when you have the children of the rich and famous as your classmates, you're automatically connected with their parents. And the parents are already people who have power and can bestow it upon you if they want.

But, if the person isn't truly qualified and only cheated to get into college, why haven't they fallen apart? What makes you think the cheating stops when they walk in the door at Yale? It doesn't. Jaime Leigh wrote a viral Facebook post about how she helped these people cheat their way through college and grad school by writing their papers. She says (excuse her language),

 Want to know how many papers I've written for undergraduate students? Graduate students? I couldn't even tell you. It's a higher number than I can remember offhand. Need a magic paper to save your grade in the class you're failing? Need to save your half-assed thesis? I've done it all. I'm a better-than-average writer and I made my clients look good.

All this work goes into making sure Asshole McGloatyFace graduates from an Ivy, because graduating from an Ivy--combined with the connections of Mom and/or Dad--means he gets internships at the best companies and firms. It means he gets interviews, even if his GPA is sub-3.0. It means he gets the best jobs when he graduates. He's still an idiot, but now he's an idiot earning high-five or low-six figures.

Well, remember that rotational program and the executive coach? Those things help people to actually succeed. If you put the kid with good grades from the local no-name school into this program, she'd probably succeed as well. And any personal statements that these people need in the future? Leigh says she wrote those too. (Her whole post is worth reading.)

Going to the right college means you get the right internships and getting the right internships means you get the right first job and having the right first job and an amazing network means your career is secure.

Meanwhile, people who are truly bright and truly worked hard in college get overlooked in favor of the person with the right degree and the right connections. This is an HR failure. We're not evaluating fairly. We're not hiring fairly. End the privileges for the privileged at work and you won't need to cheat your way into the right school anymore.

Published on: Mar 14, 2019
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