Does Being From A Premier College Matter? – Brand Tag or Brand Essence

The employability of engineering graduates in India is a mere 18%, while MBAs fare worse at a dismal 10%. Although the nation is teeming with our professionally qualified youth, we fondly call our demographic dividend, quality professionals are still a rarity. This scarcity leads to them charging a premium, the biggest beneficiary being our Indian version of Ivy League colleges. The question then is whether to hire from these institutes at a premium, and if at all then why?

National Association of Software and Services Companies’ (NASSCOM) survey showcased that over 75% of IT graduates are not ready for jobs. India’s $60 billion outsourcing industry alone spends a whopping $1 billion each year training them to be fit for jobs. Apart from lesser training expense to become employable, and other benefits like better branding, well groomed, punctilious and ready to hit the ground running candidates; I believe, the major reason for recruiting from a premier College is to hedge against the risk of a bad hire.

Every function has an entry barrier, finance having the highest, and HR one of the lowest. For Finance, top companies only go to the Cream de la Cream colleges, and hire people giving extreme weightage to their past profiles, because an error in of a Finance professional could cost millions of dollars. For a Doctor the margin for error is slimmer as life and death are on the line. Often being double sure is not an option, but a necessity.

I surmise, the major reason is that the reliability of instruments used for recruitment is dismally low. Most companies shortlist criterion of Academic scores reflects the uni-dimensional measure of intelligence, they then corroborate it using aptitude tests followed by Personal interviews, in which panel is chosen by seniority and not competence in taking interviews. Personal biases run amok in PIs which are already not scientific. It just takes too much effort to train senior leaders in taking Behavioural Event Interviews, making a psychometric an elimination criterion or designing simulations, which have a higher predictability,

Most Organizations have critical positions cut out for premier College graduates, while other graduates often start off with drudgery, making their way up proving their prowess at every institutional gate. Ivy League graduates are often denigrated for their inexorbitant salaries, but then the cost of recruiting one of the 91.37% unemployable candidate is much higher when compared to the premium offered at Campuses, add to that preventing the risk of mediocrity being made the standard and it seems like a sweet deal.

How much Does a Premier College matter

Peer Learning: My batchmates were the Top 60 amongst 23000 applicants, (1 selection per 400 -500 applicants being a ballpark figure for most top institutes), and each student brings something to the table, thus paving way for an enriching couple of years of peer learning from some of the sharpest mind.

Several development theories like Robert Zajonc’s confluence model has emphasised on peers and from environment in the learning process. Leon Festinger’s theory of social comparison processes states that people evaluate themselves against peers and strive towards narrow range of differences between them, thus growing beyond what they would normally have.

Add to that top notch infrastructure and curriculum focused on developing a perspective, instead of just delivering content, in a premier college does have its advantages.

One of the criterion premier institutes look during admission is the ability to handle the rigour of their curriculum, and those excelling on this criterion and going through years of rigour are often better at coping up with the demands of the corporate world. With companies going LEAN, job descriptions getting broader and de-siloisation of work, the need of the hour is a professional who is willing to stretch and evolve. These are often the criterion for selecting HiPos, a rare commodity most organizations are eternally looking for to fulfill leadership demands of a fast paced growth scenario.

In Organizations, knowledge is not enough to be successful, and this is where Practical intelligence becomes the differentiator. When employers were asked competencies needed in Graduates,  three out of top 5 were related to Practical intelligence. The classic story of Chris Langan vs Robert Oppenheinger (Malcolm Gladwell: Outlier) is repeated day in and day out. Fiefdoms led by Bolsheviks exist aplenty, and these graduates having experienced high stakes college politics are much more equipped to navigate their way around all this and more. Right from your body language to the experience of handling that fest to neatly dressing up, the importance of these attributes are the highest when you start your career, because everyone is being judgmental, trying to box you.

Why many Ivy League graduate falter

No doubt, a premier tag and a rich alumni network is a considerable advantage in the initial phase of your career. But then where do they falter? A common quibble from the industry is that graduates from these premier institutes are focused on Plush corporate offices, posh locations, idyllic gallivanting or possess a sense of entitlement from Day 1, and this has inadvertently stymied their growth.

And this is where they have faltered, many have gotten frustrated with their professions, having restricted themselves to a few dimensions. This openness to experiences, experiment and take risks has been where many professionals from humble academic background have done marvelously well.

Another fact is that in my limited experience as a recruiter, an observation has been that most of our recruits from financially humble backgrounds have been astounding success over the privileged ones (Much to the chagrin of Annette Laureau , who has done commendable researches over unequal childhoods). When my boss tries to reason this phenomenon, he often quotes their hunger to succeed and a lack of a backup plan as reasons for them to give it all in, leading to success.

Work as we know it, is not inherently fun – We cannot be ourselves at work (according to Frederic Laloux – we only take 1/16th of us to work), and hence sticking on to Goals and keeping oneself motivated each day is quite some task. This is where the hunger for rising up the professional ranks and not having the option to fail, is what might be the differentiator at times. This might be in any individual, and if sustained anyone can make it big.

The Burden of a premier Tag – It’s more than just an Ivy League

A broader question for me is: Why does one go to College?

Not the brand Tag but the Brand essence that they stand for. What does this College stand for?

For some a premier degree might mean a means for a safe and secure career, and for some it might be the licence to thrill, to try and experiment, and there is always this safety net to fall back upon if and when you fail. Those who have taken the second option are the ones leading the startup ecosystem , or change initiatives in Corporates, doing justice to the expectations of their alma mater.

For me, a premier tag is a huge responsibility to live up to what your institution stands for (With great power, comes great responsibility :P) . I’d try reproducing a quote a professor of mine from TISS said –

Armed with this degree and this knowledge, I leave you to the corporates, not to succumb and build a career – but to stand up for what is right. Speak up not just for yourself, but for those who don’t have these luxuries and this security to speak up.

Because your career will never be decided by an ugly spat, a heated up argument or a disagreeing opinion – But your conscience will depend on how far you had gone when you saw what was wrong. This in true sense would be living what this institution truly stands for….

I’d like to end this with a quote from one of our Alumnus;

All Colleges develop your Knowledge base, but few develop the Soul’

And this is sums up what is missing from our education system