YALE STUDENT TO TOM FRIEDMAN: Actually, We Really Are Better Than Other People

Wikimedia Commons/ Sage RossTom Friedman’s latest column in the New York Times argues that 

employers don’t care if you went to Yale:Since jobs are evolving so quickly, with so many new tools, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy by employers for your ability to do a particular job — and, therefore, be hired. So, more employers are designing their own tests to measure applicants’ skills. And they increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?

Instead, Friedman argues, employers are turning to meritocratic recruiting methods, like the recruiting startup created by his daughter’s former roommate at …Yale.

People are taking issue with the column for a few reasons, including how it serves as a “PR piece for a company run by his daughter’s Yale buddies” according to one commenter at Hacker News.

No one is more upset, however, than one Yale student who argues at Hacker News that Yale students really are better than everyone else. Here’s why:

Have people considered that “credentials and connections” are actually a valuable signaling mechanism? Connections (in the broadest sense of the word) indicate that a candidate is able to form strong personal relationships. People are not robots, and this ability goes a long way in the workforce. If you are hiring someone, you know you’re going to spend the majority of your waking time with that person for the foreseeable future. So any kind of signal that this will prove a positive use of your time is a valuable one. This is not to say that other schools don’t offer this mechanism. I’m simply observing that the idea of “connections” does not carry nearly as much negative weight as its connotations often imply.

Similarly, credentials indicate that a candidate has conaistently passed more screening processes over a long duration of time than a company could practically present to the candidate. Consider that nobody is born into Yale (contrary to popular belief, and any exceptions to this are in the minority). To get to Yale, you effectively must pass through a fifteen year funnel. No company can match that kind of screening rigour, so why not leverage it? From a company’s point of view, it would be dumb not to. (Also, think about it this way — if you are a high school senior with a choice of any school, and therefore one of the smartest in your class, will you choose Yale or a state school? I parenthesized this because it’s a straw man argument, but do consider that financial barriers to the Ivy League are basically non-existent nowadays.) Yes, you can get qualified candidates from other schools. But your chances of getting a “lemon” candidate from Yale are, I presume, much lower than getting one from another school. You know that at the very least the candidate is capable of learning quickly on the job. In many industries, especially those where most domain knowledge comes from real world experience, like finance and consulting, the ability to learn quickly is a candidates most valuable asset. If every candidate will arrive at the company with a “blank slate”of knowledge and experience, why not recruit the ones who can fill up their slate the best? This is why finance companies recruit history majors, for instance. They know that success in a liberal arts education demonstrates an ability to learn quickly (not to mention strong writing skills).

I know many people on here are anti-liberal arts or anti-Ivy favoritism. Those arguments, especially the latter, have obvious validity. But I hope this post will cause you to consider the other side of the argument.

Disclaimer: I go to Yale. I realise we are extremely spoiled in the job market, but I also do not necessarily think it’s undeserved. It’s unfortunate that other people suffer, but I do not feel like we are disproportionately favoured. I think a VERY high majority of Yale students are top 1% job candidates. Everybody gets in here for a reason.

IvyGate linked to this comment, calling it “a harrowing, first-person glance into Yale’s meritocratic myth.”

We had our own brush with the hubris of Yale students last month, when Yale Law Students unilaterally declined to participate in a most impressive students list — with one respondent telling us: “Every one of my classmates at Yale Law School has been a true exemplar of leadership and accomplishment, and there are more fascinating life stories here than I can count.”

Yale really is a great school. If Friedman is at all right, however, then Yalies may have to come to grips with a world where they have to fight to get ahead and face competition from state school kids, dropouts, and billions of ambitious and increasingly educated foreigners.

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