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Stop Worrying So Much: HR Doesn’t Care Where You Go to College

Karen Niovitch Davis  Follow

With commitment week in the rearview mirror, parents of incoming college students can finally put to rest the question of which school their child will attend. That’s a good thing. As a Chief Human Resources Officer who interviews hundreds of job candidates each year, I never understood why parents worry so much about where their child goes to college. Outside of a few fields like investment banking and management consulting, it largely doesn’t matter.

That’s not to say that I don’t look at where a young applicant went to school. Of course I do. However, it’s only one data point among many – and not an especially useful one.

Part of what drives parents and students to focus on the Ivy League and other top schools is natural. Everyone wants to be affiliated with something prestigious and well-known. What they often don’t realize is that there are many ways to do this – and attending a brand-name university is just one of them.

When I’m evaluating resumes, I want to know that a candidate is raising the bar in some way and is taking steps to become a productive, successful member of society. Taking challenging courses at Stanford or Harvard can demonstrate this, but there are dozens of other ways to show your work ethic that are just as valuable, if not more valuable. Are you working part time while going to school? Perhaps you’re a leader of an honor society, on-campus club, affinity group or a fraternity or sorority. Maybe you made a key contribution to a research paper or study done by one of your professors.

Whenever I see a resume from a Division I athlete, I always spend extra time with it. The commitment and dedication required to reach that level are qualities I value in an employee.

Internships are another way to impress. Again, it’s not always the prestigious name that resonates. I’d rather hire someone who made a major, measurable impact at a small non-profit than someone who did relatively menial tasks as part of massive intern cohort at a Fortune 100 company.

I even look more closely at a person’s GPA than their alma mater. I’m not looking for a specific number, though. I’m thinking about what their GPA says about them.

A 4.0 is great in some ways. But it also suggests that maybe the person doesn’t challenge themselves enough. I also wonder how someone who is used success might deal with the inevitable failures that are part of any career.

At the same time, if someone puts a GPA below 3.5 on their resume, I’m wondering why they chose to include it at all. It’s a signal that they may need guidance on how to put their best foot forward.

What I’m ultimately looking for is insight into the kind of person I’m hiring. I want to work with people who worked hard and made an impact on whatever they chose to do. Instead of focusing on a university name, parents and students should concentrate on finding opportunities to shine, demonstrate leadership and truly make a difference.

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