The Economist reports about a study on firms’ recruitment policies and interprets the results of the study as a “guide on how to join the global elite.” Here is what it takes:
- Intelligence and diligence: Ideally documented by a degree from a US Ivy League college, Oxford or Cambridge.
- Sophistication and smartness: A job in consulting, ideally with McKinsey or the Boston Consulting Group; with a big law firm; or in investment banking, ideally with Goldman Sachs. To land such a job, one needs to impress and convince one’s future colleagues (the actual consultants, lawyers or bankers are interviewing, not the human resources department). And this requires a sense of immediate camaraderie:
… they behave predictably: they follow a set script, starting with some ice-breaking chit-chat, then asking you about yourself, then setting a work-related problem. That makes them desperate for relief from the tedium. Be vivacious. Hang on their every word. And flatter their self-image as “the best of the best” and the most jet-lagged of the jet-lagged.
- “Fit:” Diversity is attractive, but only a little bit of it. The recruiters are looking for people to work and socialize with (think of all the evenings in airport lounges). Similarities help.
This overwhelming emphasis on style rather than substance may seem an odd way to select members of the 1%. But those at the top of the consulting, investment-banking and legal professions know that the most prized possession in uncertain times is not brainpower, but self-confidence. For all the talk of the world becoming dominated by a “cognitive elite”, in reality it appears it is nothing more than a “confidence elite”.
In the same issue, The Economist reports about research to show that the “strength of [one’s] handshake predicts the length of … life.” Confidence, it seems, makes you healthy and successful.
Update (25 May 2015)
In the FT, Gillian Tett also discussed the study. She wrote:
… Nor is an Ivy League education sufficient per se. Instead, what these companies are looking for in the interview process is what they often describe as “polish” or “pedigree” — as evidenced in thousands of tiny social cues and cultural patterns. … In theory, this “pedigree” is meant to reflect individual merit and talent; in practice, though, it is hard for students to engage in extracurricular activity unless they come from an elite background to start with.
“Working-class students are more likely to enter college with the notion that the purpose of higher education is learning in the classrooms, and invest their time and energy accordingly,” Rivera observes. “But the [fact that] these students focus on academic rather than extra-curriculum pursuits adversely affects their job prospects,” she adds, describing how time and again the people interviewing candidates for jobs made decisions based on subjective issues such as whether a candidate had “polish”, “breadth” — and “pedigree”.
Princeton University Press’ website of the book.