Education

Why Alma Maters Matter Less Than You Think -- in a Good Way

You're told that where you went to college is the be-all and end-all for launching a career but it's less important than ever.
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This year’s career-minded graduates are flooding the job market after four years of hard work and higher education, armed with a piece of paper that proves they’re go-getters. They finish things. They’ve got an alma mater that taught them how to live.

But as you all start to wonder what comes next, that alma mater could start to feel like a big variable -- will the name of your college impact where you’re able to land a job?

Research has repeatedly shown that graduates of so-called “better” schools -- the Oxfords, the Harvards, the Stanfords -- are more likely to be the most “employable,” moving on to top jobs and making pretty darn good money along the way. Recruiters at top employers have been known to say they only look at candidates from a specific set of top-ranking schools. Big banking and investment firms proudly admit they focus most of their recruiting at top-tier campuses. It’s not surprising, then, that parents and students historically spend so much time, effort and money trying to get into these elite universities. We’ve been indoctrinated to believe that the name matters most of all.

Related: Placement Blues: What Ivy-League Colleges Should Keep In Mind Prior To the Next Recruitment Season

But before today’s grads get too concerned about what’s written on their diploma, take heart -- things are changing. According to Jobvite data, graduates from San Jose State University, University of California, Berkeley and The University of Texas at Austin were the most in-demand for companies hiring between March of 2015 and March of 2016. That’s a huge variety, and it just goes to show that the outlook is good for any hard-working college graduate -- regardless of which college you attended.

Luck (and the job market) is on your side.

First of all, you’ve got simple supply and demand working in your favor. As technology continues to infiltrate every industry on the planet, companies desperately need employees capable of navigating this brave new world -- and the fact is that the so-called top schools cannot produce enough skilled graduates to fill this need on their own. No company is going to have the time, patience or durability to continue limiting its applicant pool to an elite handful. Being agile and competitive in this job market means developing more creative recruiting strategies and being open to all available options -- and that’s good news for you.

The other thing is that all this super-investment in hiring based on a school’s name is not delivering any justifiable returns. That’s why Google’s head of HR, Laszlo Bock, stated flat out last year that his company doesn’t care where you went to college anymore. Google looked at its own data and found that the top-tier graduates it had been hiring -- at a considerably greater expense -- were not always the employees that delivered the greatest results for the company. In fact, Google found that performance, leadership, culture fit, problem solving -- these were the things that differentiated its most productive workers and therefore these were the things that should warrant a better salary. More and more companies are going with Google’s philosophy. They’re willing to pay more for the best talent, sure; but with today’s data analytics capabilities, there are more scientific ways to determine how to get a return on that investment than assuming it pumps naturally in the veins of Stanford grads.

Related: 4 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Recruit Exclusively Online

What’s in a name?

I’ve been working a long time. I’ve been everything from a beat reporter to a technology CEO and I’ve learned that once you’re hired, your performance on the job matters more than anything else. Period. No one sits around the office comparing diplomas. No one will care whether you went to Dartmouth or the University of Michigan. They care if you can do the work you were hired to do.

Honestly, I think graduates of second- and third-tier schools are often better prepared for this reality than those who went Ivy League. If you attended a large public institution (I was an undergrad at UCLA), then you’ve routinely sat in classes with 400 other students taught by busy professors who don’t soften or inflate grades. You’ve learned how to buckle down and get things done. That counts for something, believe me. I went to graduate school at an Ivy League university, and while it was certainly tough, it was not the same environment. I think the school of hard knocks regularly humbles graduates who don’t know what the real world is like.

Related: 5 Surefire Ways to Attract College Talent

So as you head out beyond graduation, keep these thoughts in mind. Be sure, too, that you keep in touch with your friends. Good friends are hard to find -- and they can also be great business contacts as the years go by. But above all, turn your focus now to the school of real life -- because in the long run, how you do there will be a more important predictor of your future success.