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How to land a job at an elite firm

Bryan Caplan summarizes Lauren Rivera’s findings about the recruiting process at elite law firms, investment banks, and management consulting firms. Here’s how you make it:

  1. Go to Harvard or Princeton. Elite firms focus their candidate search at only the most prestigious schools. “Public ivies” such as UMich or Berkeley don’t get nearly as much attention.

  2. Do the right kind of extracurriculars. Be a varsity athlete. Climb Everest. Tour Asia as a concert pianist. Be unique in the right way. Do things that signal work ethic, sociability, and drive.

  3. Maintain a good GPA. Grades matter, but just as a cutoff.

  4. Follow the same path as people who made it. Evaluators have a lot of slack and they tend to recruit people who are similar to themselves.

Now is this system fair? According to Rivera,

Admittance and attendance at a prestigious educational institution is heavily grounded in an individual’s socio-economic background and that of his/her parents (see Bowen & Bok, 1998), partially because of the use of extracurricular activities as a criterion of evaluation. The use of time and resource-intensive extracurricular involvement at college or graduate school by employers, however, has the potential to result in a double filter on socioeconomic status that could significantly disadvantage those candidates who attend super-elite universities but who come from less affluent backgrounds.

Indeed, to impress the elite, you’ve got to look like one. And sadly, this emphasis on extracurriculars achievement is force towards social closure. In the end, the recruiting process ends up serving and perpetuating people who look like the elite. So you want to work for an elite firm? Do as they say: fake it till you make it.


Read Lauren Rivera’s ”Ivies, Extracurriculars, and Exclusion” here. Highly recommended. Also, thanks to Simone Zhang for thoughts.

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