The other day my co-worker told me that his nephew was applying to his first job out of college. The nephew had a reasonable offer from a tech company in the Bay Area–not a top tier firm but not obscure. My co-worker asked me what I thought about the company.
I considered it for a moment. “Eh. He should try to get as big a logo as possible for his first job.”
After I said it, I immediately felt like a snob. Why shouldn’t this kid choose whatever company made him happy? Why should the impressiveness of the company name be the deciding factor?
In a perfect world, it wouldn’t. In a perfect world, we could all work at the thing we liked best without worrying about what other people thought of us. But we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a messy, busy, imperfect world where people take shortcuts to understand each other, and logos are an important part of that process.
I struggled with this realization for much of my twenties. When I applied to business school, I didn’t have a perfect pedigree. After graduating from a no-name college, I’d spent 3 years at an obscure media company. I always felt like I had to work harder to prove my worth. Even after I started business school, I hated it when people asked me where I went to undergrad as though it defined me. I saw the way my classmates from Duke and Harvard and NYU were assumed to be smarter and more accomplished than those of us from less impressive schools.
On one hand, I understand why people take this shortcut. In situations where you have to make judgments quickly and with limited information, you look for something, anything, to grab on to. Logos show that some institution that you respect already looked at this same person and said, “Sure, she’ll do.”
On the other hand, I think it’s lazy to judge people by logos alone. It’s not a guarantee of quality. Every group of people has a distribution. Who’s to say a mediocre Ivy League student is a better hire than the top student at a state college? Who’s going to work harder to prove herself?
I believe this fervently: judge the person, not the logo.
But I would still tell my co-worker’s nephew to choose a big-name company for his first job.
I say that because I know how it feels to have to explain yourself. I know how frustrating it can be to be underestimated, despite all your knowledge and accomplishments. I also know the other side, since I work for a brand name company today. I know how it makes everything easier–from social gatherings to applying for jobs to, yes, getting into business school. I know how having that brand name gives you options.
Here’s my philosophy: Get that brand name on your resume as early as possible. Put in a few years, get a promotion if you can manage it. Do this for as long as you can stand it. Then put that logo to work. Use it to get that dream job or get into that top tier grad program. Use it to get to where you really want to be.
Have you been on either side of the brand name divide?