A few days ago, I was invited to a fundraiser event in Ohio. The event was lavish by all standards- highly decorated salads with the serving size kept to a little less than what I would consume at home. Each person was assigned a table prior to the event and you were gently guided to it once you arrived. You were handed over a well-designed paper listing the order in which the events of the night would unfold. It was mostly speeches about the organization and the work that they do, nothing to write home about.
Towards the end of the night, the stage was taken over by an energetic gentleman who looked to be in his late 40s. His energy is what drew the attention of the audience which was hard to grab after having been made to listen to 5 other presenters before. He tried hard to retain the attention with a bunch of jokes, clever pitch changes in his voice, and a fast-paced side-to-side walk. Attention was what he was betting his chips on. His objective in being there was to motivate the audience to donate money. And he could only do that if the people listened to him.
He was successful for a while but then most got distracted. It was either by their phones or by the person sitting next to them. I was guilty of that too. What drew my attention back to him was when he mentioned that he teaches at Harvard university. That immediately made me look up at him and for the next minute or so, I listened to what he had to say with more intent. After all, a person who teaches at one of the finest institutes in the world surely is worthy of your time, right?
The image of him that had been formed in my head was shortlived as I was quick to scan the QR code from one of those papers on the table (it was a fancy evening, trust me!) which took me directly to the profile of the speakers. I found out that he taught at another university which sounded similar. At that moment, I questioned myself- why did I value what he had to say more when I thought he worked at Harvard University?
We mostly value a person’s worth (at least in the professional field) based on where they work. After all, the people who work at the big MNCs or the FAANG usually have more feathers in their hat than others. But if you stop and think why that is so, you will realize it has all been a domino effect.
People who are at the top firms are the ones who get more opportunities to grow. They work on large-scale projects, are often invited to give talks, and are the ones others look to collaborate with. They get more connection requests on LinkedIn and naturally develop a larger network. And larger network leads to more opportunities which leads to more accomplishments which leads to increased social value.
It’s not that others can’t compete with them but it will be far more of an uphill task for others. They will have to make an extra effort to get recognized while people who work at top firms have the badge of the firm associated with their identity.
And it has always been a domino effect all along. The people who make it to the top firms are mostly from top universities and who do the top universities intake if not the top college students? So, it won’t be wrong to say that high-performing college students have more chances of landing a position with the top firms than an average-performing student with all other factors being the same.
With that established (kind of), the question is, why do we naturally give more weight to the opinions of someone from a top-tier organization than a mid-tier organization? That is definitely a good question since what took them there was just a domino effect. But remember, in order to topple the first domino, they had to be smart and hardworking to get to the top of their class in college. And then, to be able to graduate from a top university with a reputable GPA again requires resilience, hard work, and smartness.
So, the reason having ‘Works at google’ as your headline on Linkedin draws attention is not just the firm’s name but the underlying qualities that you must possess to get there. That is why people who left these firms years ago still have ‘x-Mckinsey | x-Facebook’ in their headlines. It is an unofficial way of telling the world that they are smart.
In a nutshell, the reason we listen more attentively to people who belong to a top organization is that they have a greater chance of having a more than-average IQ than others. Is it necessary that they are more talented? No, but they do have a higher chance of being talented and that is a good enough reason for most of us.