Does school pedigree matter after getting the job?

I read that firms are considering hiring more and more consultants from different backgrounds and non-target schools. However, does being from a non-target background affect your opportunities to advance after getting hired? I'm asking because I notice that most of the highlighted employees you see in the marketing material always have their backgrounds highlighted and they tend to be from targets.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Comments (21)

Feb 9, 2019

From my short experience, I'd confirm target vs non-target certainly affects career development and I'll explain you why. Promotions and general career progression is 80% based on perception, and previous jobs and education play a key role on this aspect both with clients and coworkers. (ofc how you treat others, how you react under pressure and your work ethic are also going to be fundamental)

When introducing new members of the team to clients it is common to state where these people studied at and, as you can imagine, mentioning an Ivy league or any other top business school is always better perceived and has an element of "trust, smart and hard working" component attached to it. Consequently, clients will usually prefer that their consultants are these kind of people.

Additionally, having attended a top school might cause your coworkers to perceive you as a "Star" (if they come from normal schools), and stars are usually promoted earlier.

Ofc if your performance or your attitude is shit you're not going to get promoted but it is def smth that helps. That just happened to me this month, I just got an early promotion while the other juniors have to wait for one more year (me coming from target and the others from semi to non target). It is a fact that I was better prepared, knew more finance than them and interacted well with clients, but I am sure that my school was relevant when managers decided promotion.

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Feb 9, 2019

I completely disagree. Especially in consulting. @Pictet How long have you been a consultant for? And at what type of firm? I'd be interested in understand what part of the world runs this way.

From what I've seen, to contrast, there are so many target profiles running around that having gone to a top school frankly loses its luster internally. People are much more interested in how you think and how you work. I've worked with plenty of folks from top schools who just don't get consulting, and plenty of people from non-targets who crush it. That's all that matters once you're in the role.

Consulting firms don't parade your pedigree in front of their clients, especially as junior staff. It is expected that everyone at the firm belongs there.

In marketing materials, sure, they put target profiles out there - why wouldn't they? But those folks are being rated vs their peers on job performance, not on what cafeteria they ate in for four years.

It doesn't impact promotions at all. Consulting is a meritocracy. Nobody is going to promote someone over a peer that outperformed them just because they went to a better school.

For the record, I went to a target MBA (M7).

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Feb 9, 2019

I think this makes sense, but as you move up your pedigree will matter to clients and as a representation of the firm if partner no?

Feb 9, 2019

It will only matter to those clients that went to the same school. There is a network effect.

In the grown up world, people care about what you've done professionally, not where you studied 20 years ago. No client is going to vet consulting partners based on where they went to school. They're going to vet them based on whether they done similar work for similar clients.

In terms of making partner - no. There are threads on this here. But similar concept to above. Grown ups care about grown up things - like what you've actually accomplished. Graduating from Princeton is an accomplishment at 22. It is not treated like an accomplishment once you are 40.

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Feb 15, 2019

I have been in Consulting over 5 years in Asia (I'm American), and I half agree. Internally I think coming from a target or not is close to irrelevant, particularly at lower levels. However in Consulting the people are the products, so coming from a target school will certainly affect how marketable you are to clients. This will then indirectly affect your trajectory in the firm, especially at higher levels when you need to sell and clients often place importance on coming from an Ivy. I don't agree with this line of thinking at all, in my experience education is a poor indicator of performance particularly in Consulting which is so team oriented, but the sad reality is that is how clients tend to think.

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Feb 9, 2019

Hey @BreakingOutOfPWM , as I stated at the beginning of my comment, my output is based on a short experience, so any senior advice like yours is welcome. More precisely, my experience is 1 year at an investment consulting firm (Cambridge Ass/Mercer/Aon/Willis) designing asset allocation, portfolio optimization and hedging strategies with a lot of client exposure for a junior (think 1/2 meetings per week with institutional clients).

My team is pretty small and some of the juniors of the team (with the same rank) that are semi target get less client exposure, maybe cause clients want it this way but I have no way to confirm this 100%. Ofc this might be cause they are not well prepared, but on my opinion this correlates with the fact that they did not attend a target school. But as I said, that might be unbiased and might be just happening in specific offices.

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Feb 9, 2019

This makes more sense now. It sounds like something a little idiosyncratic to your situation. And it could be from other factors i.e. maybe the 2-3 kids who went to targets are just more polished right now than the other 2-3.

Either way, the culture of investment consulting is fairly different than management/strategy consulting.

Feb 10, 2019

I went to a non-target. When I was talking to a partner from BCG, he said firms are now more open to non-targets than they used to be, and actually said that when they track performance the non-targets often did better (he didn't clarify whether this was a true average or just an unclear 'often' but nonetheless implied they do well).

Obviously this has a strong selection bias, e.g. it's hard for only an 'okay' candidate to get in from a non-target, but this at least to me indicated that they really didn't focus on it once you're in the job. Only real effect I could think of is alma mater bias for networking effects but that's small.

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Feb 10, 2019

Short answer: it matters either very little or not at all in terms of career progression.

I came from a completely no-name Eastern European school and got promoted earlier while I was working at a big4 in London, ahead of many Oxbridge/LSE grads. My story is similar to others in my teams or friends I have at MBBs. Once you're in, work matters (and navigating office politics), but not pedigree.

Since a lot more people working in top consulting firms came from targets, even if you take an average sample to showcase on the site/in brochures, likelihood is a lot of these would be from a target university.

The only time it can affect you is if you're moving jobs, esp. within a few years of your career, where your university network would come in handy. If you're worried about this, aim to go to a top MBA to add a better brand on your CV.

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Feb 11, 2019

For progression within consulting: no, it doesn't matter, and even if it did, it's not worth thinking about.

For exit opportunities: same story except for select roles in finance e.g private equity.

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Feb 12, 2019

You might see more guys from the target schools on the marketing materials bcs hiring from non targets is a recent trend. So most of the ppl on the top of the pyramid actually went to the same legacy schools. However this is gradually changing.
Once you break in nobody cares.

Feb 12, 2019

I think the answer to this is a bit more nuanced than some of the earlier posters have stated. While it's absolutely true that the quality of your work once you're inside a firm matters a great deal more than the pedigree of your school, you'll probably always face questions about your pedigree when leaving the firm. Internally, people know you and know your work. If you exit to a client, they'll know you and they'll know your work. If you remain within the firm, it shouldn't matter much at all, but if you ever have to look for competitive jobs outside the firm, I think it's pretty natural to question why you went to a particular school (especially early in your career).

To be clear, I don't think people will sneer at your reasoning for going to John's Hopkins, Vanderbilt or Tulane, but if you're holding yourself out as a generic 'smart guy', the question is: Why didn't you go to Harvard, MIT, Caltech, Yale, Princeton, Wharton, Stanford, etc? The reason (almost always) is that you didn't get in which raises a couple questions about your raw intellectual horsepower or work ethic. While a lot of people get raw deals in the admissions process and there are plenty of people who choose cheaper education options for a variety of reasons, for a certain subset of very competitive jobs, I wouldn't believe you got into Harvard and chose to go to StateU for reasons of cost. And even if you did make that choice, I'd then question your decision-making which is a bigger problem for strategy-focused roles.

None of this is insurmountable--and it certainly plays far less of a role than the quality of your work, the nature of your projects, your role on those projects, your exposure to clients, and their corresponding perception of you--but pretending it plays no role at all is inaccurate. I have a call later today with the CEO of a large portfolio company for one of the MF PE shops, and his bio absolutely mentions his HBS MBA. The man is worth high 8 figures and still lists his pedigree. If it didn't matter to certain people, it wouldn't be listed.

If you don't buy that argument, why do you think Donald Trump talks about going to Wharton all the time? Some people really like pedigree even into their old age. I don't think it should matter much, but it matters a bit more than some of the earlier posters may have led you to believe. And for the record, I used to work directly for the CEO of a major consulting firm doing corporate development and strategy for the firm. Anecdotally, he cared about pedigree. I think it's unlikely he's the only CEO who thinks that way.

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Feb 12, 2019

That's all logical but it also implies the value of the pedigree declines over time. When applying to the firm, pedigree is one of the biggest things you have. After a few years of work, experience largely crowds out pedigree but to your point, there are still questions about intellectual horsepower and work ethic bc someone didn't get into a target.

But 10 years into the career, if I'm interviewing a guy and he's talking about Project X and Project Y and I can see his progression, I can talk to others who know him, etc . . . there's just so many data points that I don't see much room left for pedigree. It's a rapidly depreciating asset.

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Feb 12, 2019

I think "...the value of the pedigree declines over time" is the perfect way to describe it. Full disclosure, I'm not in consulting, but did IB and currently in PE looking for other roles on the buyside. I can tell you that 100% #1 most important factor is the prestige of the bank/group you joined and #2 prestige of your school. I saw all the kids that went target school target bank crush recruiting vs. non-target school target bank. But over time, those that aren't great performers do get weeded out.

Headhunters can't spend a lot of time with all candidates which is why they rely on those types of factors heavily, especially at the younger ages.

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Feb 14, 2019

Much of the bias you're describing applies to a select set of fields, including the ones you've listed in your post. As you're aware, VC/PE (including portcos), IB, etc. select specifically for pedigree. This matters less and less as you venture increasingly outside that sphere, and I've seen enough of my industry to say that fairly confidently. Not to say the impact ever diminishes to an absolute zero - that would certainly be unrealistic - but the bar to exceed and its weighted importance are often low enough to be regarded as negligible or easily solved for.

Feb 12, 2019

Colleagues of mine who went to great undergrad schools get hit up for incredible exit opps because recruiters view:
- 4 years at Northwestern for a Bachelors + 3 years at a T2 > 4 years at a state school + 3 years at T2, irrespective of performance while at T2

I put in a lot of effort and my work is rewarded within my company in terms of selection of projects, involvement in initiatives, soft power (influence), and compensation (consistent high ratings led to a great base salary over the years + bonus).

If I stay within the T2, then school wouldn't matter because I'm only judged based on how I perform here.

If I wanted to orchestrate a move to a Venture Capital pre-MBA, move to a fast growing startup in Silicon Valley, move over to BizOpps at Google, this is where colleagues with better undergrad pedigree consistently have an edge over me.

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Feb 12, 2019

I'm about 7 years out from college. Came from a large state school on the east coast, nothing special (top 200 maybe?) Anyways, I'll say it took a bit more work to get my foot in the door (T1.5/2 strategy consulting), but once I got in my degree (pedigree) has had 0 impact on my career/trajectory. Once you are in the workforce, people only care about productivity and impact on whatever project you are on. I have had people on my team who I have managed and who have managed me with H/Y/P/W backgrounds and ran circles around most of them. Now I will say, If I had went to H/Y/P etc I would likely be at an MBB BB bank, but the question was once you got your foot in the door.

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Feb 15, 2019

Curious to know if you went to State Flagship for MBA: Think Florida/SC/UGA/TENN/MD.
Then you go to an Ivy or M7 for a MPA or Specialty Masters what happens? Example: Penn has a great MPA, Columbia has a Master in tech management, Georgetown has a Masters in Finance. I have a guy in my MBA class who already has a Masters in Finance from NYU. Can these second masters from top tier schools make the difference. I am not talking about UNC or UVA or Michigan or Texas. I am talking about non top 20 State Flagship. Also I saw a guy on linked in going to MIT for his MBA and then going to Harvard for his MPP(public policy) and my thought was he is trying to make sure he is affiliated with the alumni at Harvard. Will the second masters open doors!

"All men are alike in their dreams, and all men are alike in the promises
they make. The difference is what they do."-- Jean Baptiste Moliere

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Feb 16, 2019

I'm very skeptical of those degrees and those who get them. The world is cynical but not sure it's so cynical that it rewards non-core degrees just because they are gold plated (ie from a fancy university). That Harvard MPP scam is the worst. I mean if you really just want that word on your resume why spend a whole year, I'm sure Harvard has some weekend continuing ed bullshit something or other. Universities keep inventing more and more programs to sell the brand, it's no different than any consumer products company. LSE has one of the famous versions of this . . liberal arts grads fuck around in London for a year after college and get an economics degree to compensate for their art history major. The employer world is already skeptical of this game and the skepticism is only going to increase over time. Bad long term investment if you ask me. I say go work somewhere and get some relevant experience, you'll learn more and get paid to do it instead of paying.

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Feb 15, 2019
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Feb 18, 2019
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