Employing New Graduates
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BPP Law School, Holborn, London,
Oxford graduate - Philosophy, Politics and Economics; GDL/LPC Law (BPP - London); three years at Simmons & Simmons in London and HK (corporate law, asset finance - aircraft, employment law, information technology and outsourcing); co-founder - mydocumate.com. Extensive drafting, proof-reading, advisory experience.

Last week, I am speaking with an old friend from university, Jordan Goldman, who has since founded college information website unigo.com. I wanted to hear his perspective on employing new graduates:

“When you hire someone new—someone fresh out of school—how long does it usually take before you figure out whether up to the job?”

…I asked.

When I got my first job as a graduate, I remember being surprised by the huge difference between what I had needed to do to succeed at school and what was now necessary to please my employer. 

This kind of naïveté doesn’t last long (or you don’t last long!)

“About two weeks…”

…was the response: Two weeks to get a clear idea about whether a new employee is suitable or not.

Conversations like this are not unusual among employers these days

Ina survey of 32,000 students at 169 schools, the Council for Aid to Education’s Collegiate Learning Assessment (“CLA”) found that:


What’s the relevance of that statistic—and my conversation—to you? 

If you’re applying to Grad Schools or undergraduate programs overseas, I’m sure the relevance is pretty obvious: The reason you’re applying is to lay the foundations for a rich and satisfying career, ideally…

It’s a huge investment—of time and money—at a crucial time in your life. 

So,how to make sure that investment pays off? 

Howto avoid becoming a member of that 40%?

Go to the best school possible and work as hard as possible? 



Wouldn’t it be great if life was so simple?

Students at elite schools—unsurprisingly—did better than average on the CLA survey, but the results also show that:

  1. Generally, students at elite schools had more skills when they enrolled than students attending other types of school.
  2. And—remarkably—students at elite schools made much smaller improvements between enrollment and graduation than students at other schools (public or private).

What makes a school ‘elite’ if the students aren’t learning more?

Elite reputations come from rankings, brand value, name recognition, prominence,history… all of which is undeniably attractive.

We’re human, we’re social, we make comparisons, we use those comparisons to assert ourselves over others… 

The problem is many students (and parents) are so focused on the perceived importance of rank/ brand/ etc. that candidates are not really deciding about what school to attend at all.

This isn’t surprising either: This is probably the first big decision each candidate has had to make about his or her education. All through school—as kids, as teenagers, and beyond—we get used to sitting in class and working towards a set of Big Final Exams:



Wouldn’t it be great if life was so simple?

In my experience, going to an ‘elite’ school might help someone get an interview, it might even help them get a job. And while I can guarantee it will make Mom and Dad very happy indeed, I cannot guarantee it will automatically lead to a successful career.

Success in contemporary professional environments requires confident decision-makers,equipped with a set of skills—creativity, good judgement, effective problem-solving—that can’t be fully taught in a school setting. Classrooms are too structured, too predictable, too many closed questions, too many like-minded collaborators… 

In short: Classrooms are nothing like the real world!

Not many students fully understand this; according to a 2015 survey of employers by the Association of American Colleges & Universities, for example:


Creativity in the real world requires using and adapting what they’ve learned in a far more complex environment. There’s a limit on the extent to which most classrooms can approximate such conditions. So, there’s a limit on how much relevant learning students can do in class.

“People know how to take a course. But they need to learn how to learn…” 

John Leutner, Head of Global Learning atXerox (one of the world’s most enlightened companies when it comes to employeedevelopment).

Learningto successfully navigate the school system is not a full preparationfor the bigger, more important challenges that will come later.

So,how to prepare?

Lookbeyond rankings: Be a real decision-maker when it comes to choosing yourtarget schools.

Consideryour biggest accomplishments. What was it that enabled you—on thoseoccasions—to do your very best work? 

Theschools you attend should enable you, with an 

Thebest school for you is not whatever school ismarginally higher up on US News this year (the methodology is highlyproblematic and no basis for such an important life choice – but that’s foranother blog post!)

The best school for you is one where your most important learning takes place outside the classroom. It will have an atmosphere,culture, style and peer-groups that makes you feel both driven and comfortable.It will inspire you to actively seek out:

  • Ambitious projects, with scope for socially-valuable outcomes.
  • Messy problems, with no clear solution, to marsh all with your intellect.
  • A broad spectrum of peers who will challenge your assumptions and help you see the world differently.

At the best school for you, you’ll welcome these challenges with open arms and approach them with the same degree of rigor you apply in class. 

A school’s capacity to help you succeed is not determined by reputation orranking

Think of George Mason University (which US News ranks 139th but Business Insider names as one of the most underrated colleges in America); its economics faculty includes two Nobel prizewinners, Vernon Smith (formerly of the University of Arizona) and Gordon Tullock (who, as a student, only ever took one class in economics).

You should be able to show your teachers, and then anyone else, how what you’ve made in a class, what you created, demonstrates your capacity to do other things and what you’re going to do next.”

Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University (a prominent liberal-arts college in Connecticut).

Unless you leave school with the ability to advocate for yourself and apply yourlearning that Prof. Roth describes, the ‘elite’ reputation of your school will not get you very far in the real world.

It’ll get you about two weeks.

After that, it will be up to you. 


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