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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- 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).
- 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....
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.