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Beyond the ivies

Q. A fellow at a think-tank wants me to be his new assistant, but the organization's recruiting people will only hire applicants from top-tier universities. He and I have worked together in the past. I graduated from a decent but relatively unknown private college (3.9 GPA). I published research with faculty as an undergrad and served on the national board for the field's honor society. I am also half-way through a master's program at a prestigious school.

None of this, however, negates their HR department's top-ranked snobbishness. They would rather hire an Ivy Leaguer with a degree in something completely different. They do not even entertain applications from lower-ranked schools. This fellow has gone through four assistants in three years because his HR people keep giving him Ivy League grads who are experts in other fields. The position involves actual skills (lots of math) that a philosophy major from Harvard can't learn on his/her own. They're set up to fail from the start.

I am not the entitled type, but this is bordering on ridiculous. I picked my college based on the financial aid package they offered me in my senior year of high school. It's unclear to me how it should be an issue now. We both anticipate this being a problem but don't know how to approach it.

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A. I think you and your prospective manager should strategize and develop a game plan. The strategy that you consider developing might include the following:
1. Develop a job description for the role with your prospective manager focusing on the background, skill set and experience required for this position. Then you should be ready, willing and able to articulate how your skills and experience map back to this job description.
2. Write a brief summary of the recent hires and a description of why these individuals were not a good match for the role; you may also want to include hiring costs for each of these three hires to better quantify how expensive poor hires have been for this organization.
3. Discuss the working relationship that you and this individual had in the past, demonstrating that you will both “hit the ground running” quickly rather than taking the usual several months building a professional work relationship.
4. Ensure that your current resume is tailored to this current role; include some of your academic accomplishments and be certain that it is both crisp and error-free.
5. Provide samples or a portfolio of relevant work samples that demonstrate your skills and abilities as an assistant. Make it polished!
6. Create a 90-day plan outlining what you expect to accomplish in the first 90 days on the job.

Lastly, a critical factor may be this manager’s ability to influence his peers and his HR department. He should be able to clearly articulate why you are a strong candidate and use the above framework to support his recommendation.

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