Friday, April 17, 2009

The War For Talent is Bollocks, Part 1


I am so sick and tired of hearing about how companies are constantly competing for the top MBAs - the business media has dubbed it the "War For Talent". Supposedly, even during the recession, the War For Talent is still raging.  I'm telling you, as a soldier in the trenches of this "war" that it is utter bollocks and rubbish. The war doesn't exist, and companies wouldn't know talent if it walked naked through their front door wearing a neon sign and crashing two cymbals together.

For one thing, many companies are still laboring under the antiquated and patently false assumption that people from the Ivies are better than people from the rest of the world.  I refuse, REFUSE, to believe that because I happened to live in Kansas at the time when I went back to school, that I have less potential to perform than someone who happened to get into Harvard.  

First, most studies agree that the only reliable predictor of future job performance is previous experience...not school, not grades, not GMAT score, not leadership positions held...just relevant job experience.  And maybe emotional intelligence if HBR is correct...but they're probably not.  The point: companies are chasing down applicants based on misconceptions and outright bullshit, and missing out on a whole world of other talented people.

Second, just because someone went to an Ivy League school doesn't mean that they will be a great performer.  It would even be accurate to say that, given that the current financial crisis was conceived and perpetrated by Ivy alums, maybe companies would do better to steer clear from "elite" MBAs since they may be more prone to spectacular failures and evildoing.  And this really pisses me off: after churning out thousands of graduates who were either architects of financial wrongdoing or complicit in greedy profiteering, Harvard now has the gall to defend their curriculum in the face of mounting criticism that their graduates are awful, and preach to the rest of us about how business ethics should be emphasized more in MBA programs.   

To give you an idea of why I find this attitude so offensive, here are some distinguished Ivy alums: Jeff Skilling (Harvard, MBA, top 5% of his class), dot-com schemer Frank Quattrone, who's lucky to not be in jail right now (Wharton, graduated with honors), Franklin Raines, former head of Fannie Mae who made millions doing shady deals at below-market rates (Harvard, Rhodes Scholar), and Rick Wagoner (Harvard MBA), the distinguished CEO of GM who pretty much ran the company into the ground and was canned by President Obama.  

It's time that companies started evaluating applicants based on things that actually exist, like practical experience, instead of chasing fantasies about how a Harvard MBA can come in and make everything all better again.  Between grade inflation and nepotism, I don't even understand how companies could seriously think that they're getting what they're paying for in an Ivy MBA.   

So if companies really want to win the battle for talent, it's time they pulled their heads out of the dark ages and realized that talent can come in all kinds of packages...not just those marked "Harvard Approved".  

3 comments:

  1. I think you can list our former president GWB among the distinguished Harvard MBA alums.

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  2. You're absolutely spot on that the only reliable predictor of job performance is relevant job experience. Even Jay in our disruptive innovation class said "business is a craft, it's something you learn on the job and not in the classroom" in his rantings about the KU MBA program.

    The simple fact, though, is that admissions into the the high ranking B-Schools does generally require a lot more job experience than Kansas. It's one of my problems with the KU MBA program; the admissions for full timers is not stringent enough in my opinion. The result is that they'd routinely admit students with very little relevant work experience, have the new admits drink the kool-aid and lure them into the false sense of security that they'll have a high paying job upon graduation. I'd know because I'm an example! Though I had an excellent GMAT and a 4.0 GPA, I had little work experience prior to business school, and struggled with some of the most basic concepts in my first semester of the MBA program (like economics, which I still hate and will probably never understand).

    It really struck home when I did the Global Business Project and found out just how much more experienced my teammates were. One of my teammates worked in marketing at Johnson & Johnson for seven years before going to UNC-Kenan Flagler, and did her internship at Dupont upon returning from Japan. Even during my internship I felt stupid for a month before getting into the swing of things.

    I guess what I'm saying is that if a potential employer were to compare resumes of a full-time KU MBA vs. a Harvard MBA, the Harvard MBA will almost certainly have more work experience; it's just how their admissions criteria work. Also note I mentioned "full-time". There's a reason I go out of my way to take the classes at the Edwards Campus; the part-timers are able to bring up their own work experience in classroom, which makes for much better discussion than any of the classes at Lawrence.

    Just my two cents.

    Peter (who dropped Koleman Strumpf's class in order to ensure his GPA wouldn't slip)

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  3. Peter, it seems that what you're saying is consistent with what I'm saying: more experience = better student and later, a better employee. If you remove the experience factor from a Harvard MBA though, he's as good as an MBA from any other accredited program. My point was that the name Harvard does not itself imbue the bearer with any special powers.

    And this is especially true given that Harvard publishes all their teaching notes and cases online - so for $6.95 a pop, you can learn APV, marketing math, etc. exactly the way it's being taught at Harvard. This is an invaluable resource for anyone who's unhappy with their professors, or who needs to bone up for a job interview. So I think that given the wide world of resources out there, all things being equal, an MBA is an MBA is an MBA (unless it's from University of Phoenix, in which case you're screwed).

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