What WSO get's wrong about "target" vs. "non-target" - Employer View

Okay, I keep seeing lots of reference to "target" vs. "non-target" all over WSO (and in the RE forum) and have come to realize this is a badly misunderstood term/concept. At least from the employer perspective.

TL:DR - Target just means schools an HR department wants to focus campus recruiting energy; prestige is a factor but so is driving distance to the firm's office. Non-target DOES NOT mean grads from that school are lesser or not qualified or not worthy for consideration.

Misconceptions about "target" schools (from an RE firm perspective, but I suspect very similar for IB, but I don't have the same personal experience to back the claim up):

  1. Firms prefer grads from "target" schools and only hire from "non-target" when they run out of grads from the HYPs of the world - FALSE

Truth - Firms want the best candidates and like diverse backgrounds, if a firm does show preference to a set of schools it's because they had good history with hires from that set of school, so HR focuses their limited time marketing to those schools and attending their career fairs.

  1. Designation of "target" is an implicit mark of quality and superiority of the school and its grads - Semi-true, but not exclusively

Truth - Prestige and reputation is a factor in setting target schools for recruiting, but it is far from a sole factor. The rep of the school (or lack their of) doesn't translate that all grads are certain way or not. What can be true is that grads of certain schools are more desirous of careers in high finance, CRE, IB, etc. Believe it or not, not everyone wants to work 100+ hours a week in their 20s, but at some schools, the grads are more willing than others.

  1. My application will get trashed or put to the bottom if not from a "target" school - FALSE

Truth - Screening of applicants is most likely to start with items like major, GPA, internship experience, relevant coursework. These items will overpower school name. Yes, it may matter when shifting through the 1000+ applicants to decide on the 15 to 50 or so that get a phone interview, but you have lots of room to make an impact on a resume before school matters.

How do firms actually designate a school "target" and what does mean?

First, all it generally means is that the HR group has decided to focus its campus recruiting efforts at the school and generally just specific programs at that school. Firms have limited resources in people, time, and money and thus have to prioritize efforts. How do they set "targets" generally by some mix of these criteria:

  1. School has a program that teaches what they want, and that program is big enough to warrant campus recruiting or other marketing -YEP, size in the specialty/major is a big factor (why small Lib Arts schools rarely get "targeted", this doesn't mean applicants from these school are viewed as lesser).

  2. General reputation/prestige factor - YES this does matter, but only in total context. Further only parents and prospective students know about "rankings", firms are not buying US News and World Report to figure this; it is by general reputation in the market/field + a read on the alum working for the firm. Clearly, Ivys and Ivy-like will do better in this regard, and some firms WILL care, but really not that many, and frankly only those in major cities like NYC.

*Side-note, athletics can play a big role in this too. Clemson and LSU (and SEC in general) grads will get more looks and attention because of the TV factor. Schools get clumped by athletic association - Big Ten, SEC, and yes guess where the term "Ivy League" came from....

  1. Distance to the firm's office(s) - YES, driving time is maybe the biggest factor why a school may get "target" vs. other status. This is an absolute fact. NYC firms draw from schools near NYC, this shouldn't surprise anyone. Lehigh University is not an Ivy, yet it places grads on Wall Street like one, why? Location and alumni, period.

  2. History of finding good recruits from school - Firms like repeat business, and if they have a successful alum in their ranks they can and will be called on to help with campus recruiting by speaking, attending job fairs, and networking with prior professors. This clearly benefits the Ivys and other old schools with deep, well-connected alumni basis. BUT it also benefits large state schools (correlates to size also), OSU, ASU, FSU are all large but not really near big cities, they still get "target" status by firms nationally due to size and history. It can also benefit smaller schools if they can consistently provide good hires, like Lehigh as stated above.

  3. Target status can vary regionally - The NYC office may have one list, but the LA office may have a totally different one. This is very true at my firm, each office focuses on schools close to it. How this may impact you getting to the office/job you want will vary firm to firm, but it will be easier to get a job close to where you went to school than far away. This is how people should actually choose where to go to school (rant for a different day)

So what does a school really provide? NETWORK, that is the real benefit or lack thereof to any school. The Ivys do get a leg-up in this regard, it's their history. Big state schools and larger known privates do also (like Duke, Vandy, etc.). BUT, this implies NO disadvantage to a grad of lesser known school. It just means they may need to build their own network, not hard to do these days. 20-30 years ago, it would have been much harder.

So please, readers, posters and commentators on WSO, stop defining YOURSELF as "target" or "non-target". If firms aren't doing this, you shouldn't be either.


sorry you didn't get into harvard :(

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nor me. it was either trump university or nothing. best decision of my life.

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Same, a lot of my friends work at Chase HQ there and make bank (compared to cost of living) simply because they were down the street and were nominally-qualified (Capital, Otterbein, Denison, etc).

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albeit football is infinitely more meritocratic than a corporate setting.

You sure about that? Maybe it's changing, but how many guys get dinged for "personality issues" despite being an objectively player? How many guys come out of elite systems and then completely crap the bed because their success was a product of their environment and not their talent?

I would agree that many other advantages come into play in banking, but that isn't the same as "meritocracy". If a QB at Auburn is being drafted because he racked up crazy statistics... well, that often has nothing to do with the merits of the player, and everything to do with the merits of the system. Which at the end of the day means that football, like finance, is equally based on prestige and impersonal factors like program and exposure.

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It amazes me how often this is spoke of on here. I mean, Jesus Christ, it's literally just a school.

I went to a total non-target (albeit, semi-target for my home state) and here I am, at a relatively notable firm in NYC, working along the likes of colleagues from "prestigious" institutions. Guy next to me went to Yale, guy I report to went to Harvard and was friends with Ryan Fitzpatrick, another guy I report to went to NYU Stern, then Columbia b-school, our boss went to UCLA Anderson --- and guess what? None of that fucking matters, we all work at the same firm. Yes, me with my DIII liberal arts education with these ivy-types sitting side by side.

Like, who tf cares where you went to school when you graduate? Yes, you will have to hustle more than others if you come from a "non-target", but is that hard work? Not really if you care about your career... You WILL catch a break at some point. So much emphasis on "target" and "non-target" seemingly is all for naught. Once you're in, all that matters is your work product. It doesn't matter if Chad went to Princeton, if he can't model a DCF or conduct due diligence without simple mistakes, it's onto the next one. Oh, this kid from Southeastern Kentucky Tech Comm. College absolutely knows his shit and doesn't need any oversight from superiors? Looks like he's our go to. So much for that Princeton education, Chad.

Anyways, rant over. Time for me to get back to due diligence with my manager breathing down my neck.


I agree, I think a lot of people think of it as more a crutch than taking a look at themselves. Instead of saying "I'm not good enough/didnt hustle hard enough", its "it would be easier if I came from XYZ school." But in a way, going to a certain school doesn't get you on a path to success without work.

It's kinda like the Rock, he basically built himself up from nothing. Someone could look at him and go, yea, its easy when people are doing all your leg work for you, but he was grinding when he had to do it himself.


One of the problems with the post is that its author has probably skipped some stats classes and has never heard about percentages and survivorship bias, nor has he/she ever been on the recruiting team(s). Or the author has strong pink glasses. Or it's all just irony.


For the sake of those reading this thread thinking I am meaning to imply that "Target = Non-Target", that would be quite incorrect. I think all else equal Target > Non-Target, if you are choosing schools and can make such choice. Clearly, name (and what prestige it may carry) recognition matters. If you want to get into an analyst bank at a BB IB or something like that straight out of UG or even grad (w/o relevant industry exp) then it will be a huge leg up.

But, there are many career tracks and paths within real estate (for whom the audience of this post is directed, yet I think it still generalizes to much of finance) that don't require specific pedigrees. In fact, at the individual level, a so-called "non-target grad can be > a target grad", happens more than people realize. That is the meaning of the post, focus on your individual value; where you went to school is just one element (and one that will look at lot less important after your first job). If someone is touting their Ivy status after a few years into a career, you can safely deduce they are sub-par. . Malcolm Galdwell hits this pretty well in David and Goliath (somewhat in Outliers as well). It's better to hire the top of the class from a "non-target" (not what Gladwell called it) than middle of the pack "target". I've seen this to be true many time in my career.

Without really giving too much personal detail, it has been very true for me. My "non-target" degrees haven't stopped me from taking jobs applied to by many grads of top Ivy's. Yeah it is fun to learn where people who didn't get your job(s) went to school. Had I posted while in UG or Grad school that I would have the type of career that I have had, it would have been ridculed. Yet here I am, so please, do kick-ass work, and you will have an awesome career.

I've worked along side people from everywhere, and my personal opinion is those who have Ivy degrees would have been successful regardless. Is this impacted by "survivorship bias"? Um, yeah of course it is, clearly not everyone from my school is working in the high end of real estate, finance, IB, PE, or consulting (neither are all Target grads). Am I the only one to do this? Far from it and most definitely not the most successful to date.

While I doubt this thread will continue for that long, I am likely to add an analyst to my team by the summer, will we hire from a "target" or "non-target"? Who knows, but as this is a person I will be relying on to accomplish tasks needed to complete important projects and deals, they better be good at their job. Skills will matter, but so will attitude and cultural fit. I can train skills, but I can't (or won't) change attitude. I don't think any set of schools has a leg up in that dimension.


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