If I were a real CEO, I’d be one that would listen to presentations by McKinsey, Bain and Boston Consulting, for example, very skeptically.

Why? Because I know that a lot of people that work there aren’t as brilliant as they try to pass themselves off, (plus I know that a consultant’s primary goal is increasing the project, with solving your problem coming in well in second).

This article helps vindicate my suspicion. Wall St. and Consulting Firms rely on elite college admissions staff to screen their hires.

I’ve met and worked with enough idiots from the top schools to know that while yes, a Harvard grad would, on average, likely be smarter than someone from say, Wabash, they are not all perfect. Yes, I have come across people from Harvard that were scary smart. But I have come across scary smart people from Middlebury, Denison, Dickinson, William and Mary, Brigham Young Michigan, Colgate, Rutgers, and even a friend who is a high-school drop-out (later GED’d).

But if I stack up the people from the other schools against the people I know from the elites, my assessment is that the elite grads have bigger egos, but did not show a willingness to get dirty, do detailed quantitative work, or even possess anything that could be argued as superior analytical skills.

But to many firms, the name is what matters:

Steve Hsu points out that, effectively, the hiring process of elite law firms and investment banks is being “outsourced” to college admissions officers.

It is odd that the soft firms, which market themselves to clients as being super-smart repositories of brainpower (of course this is largely a fiction; see point 3 above), would rely so heavily on university admissions committees. They effectively outsource a big chunk of due diligence on their most important investment (human capital) to a group of people whose judgement they somehow trust, but perhaps without detailed understanding. When I was on the faculty at Yale I knew people in admissions and it’s not clear to me that they were the best able to spot potential in 18 year olds. In studies of expert performance admissions people are less good at predicting UG GPA than a simple algorithm. (The “algorithm” is simply a weighted sum of SAT and HS GPA!)

By the way, Hsu thinks this situation applies more to “soft firms”—law firms, investment banks, and consultants where the actual performance of the firm is harder to measure than “hard firms”—such as hedge funds and technology companies—where he thinks prestige is likely to count for less.

The question is why so many firms do this? One answer is that it seems to work—it gets them the right candidates so why mess with the formula? If you add in an efficient market hypothesis, you could say that if using college admissions as a proxy for fitness at an elite firm was a mistake, some firm would take the opportunity to hire all the under-demanded smart kids from other colleges.

Ah, but there is where the author has a mistaken assumption: that HR people are not pathetically lazy. HR people don’t want to scour the world for talent. That takes time and effort. And if someone is hired who is an idiot, they can get away with a shrug and “What could I do? He got into Harvard and interviewed well. How could I have known?”

So if I ever amount to anything, some of you reading this can take heart that I will happily throw the Harvard, Yale, and Princeton resume books into my recycling bin should I ever receive one. I’d give the kids from College of NJ and Drexel a shot.

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