The Network Effect

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by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

Yes, law firms and consulting firms are easy targets when companies pass the buck. Yes, law firms want to be able to say that they have hired a bevy of Ivy-Leaguers to give comfort to their clients that, when they pass the buck, they've passed the buck to a highly-credentialed crew of professionals.  But there is something much more to the choice of Ivy-Leaguers (and their top-tier equivalents).  As much as the credentials that they bring, it is the network that they bring that makes recruiting offices (and those they work for) salivate. 

The people you meet at Harvard and Yale and Brown and Dartmouth will -- more often than not -- find themselves working in other law firms, other consulting firms, or businesses that may be clients.  When you go to Harvard or Yale or Brown or Dartmouth, chances are you probably went to a pretty good high school.  If you didn't go to Exeter or Andover, you probably went to Choate or Collegiate (or Dalton or Trinity or some other place your parents spent 30k per year to send you to Kindergarten).  You met people at all of those places.  More than that, you met people who also met people.  And you met people who know that, the key to success in the business world, is meeting people.  That network (the tentacles of which extend wide and deep even after college, grow further in graduate school, and expand exponentially in the "real world") is the real key to why these folks get hired.  As the old adage goes, it is, in very large part, not what you know but who you know.

Yes, I can't believe I neglected to mention this. Elite colleges don't draw from quite as narrow a range of high schools as the reader implies, but Ivy League universities are certainly filled with extraordinarily talented people, and those institutions do their utmost to cultivate a networked alumni that indirectly benefit their employers. Partners at big business consulting firms often land major clients through their business school alumni network, to cite one example.

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