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I'm a recent grad. I've been interviewing with companies and a lot of the ones I've really wanted to work with have turned me down after 1-2 interviews saying they're looking for someone from a more well-regarded university.

I've tried explaining that I took very similar course material to Ivy League listings for the same major, but that hasn't convinced anyone, and I already have class and personal projects to talk about. How should I go about addressing this?

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    Strange that they would go to the trouble of calling you in for an interview only to reject you for something they could’ve learned just by glancing at your resume. Is that the only reason they gave? – AffableAmbler Jul 9 at 3:34
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    @AffableAmbler Recruiters might not be aware of the reputation of the university. – LVDV Jul 9 at 12:10
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    Please check out my answer on this other question because it can be highly beneficial: workplace.stackexchange.com/a/131397/17532. I agree with everything that @AffableAmbler commented. – MonkeyZeus Jul 9 at 12:23
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    What is your degree in? Is your school accredited? This may be very important. Employers don't know every university in the country by name, and they might not care about the pedigree so they might invite you to an interview without recognizing the name of the institution that gave you a diploma, but then change their minds when they look it up right before making a job offer and finding out it's not accredited. – Alexandre Aubrey Jul 9 at 20:08
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    for example, this sometimes happens for engineering jobs: "graduated electronics engineering program at XYZ" on CV, employer doesn't know XYZ but any recognized engineering program is good enough. Goes through interview process with applicant, then looks up degree to make sure all is good. Turns out the program was "Electronics Engineering Technician", i.e. not an accredited engineering program, and do not hire. Some technicians may argue that they see the same material as accredited engineering schools, but legally speaking employers need accredited engineers for certain positions. – Alexandre Aubrey Jul 9 at 20:18
140

As you describe:

have turned me down after 1-2 interviews saying they're looking for someone from a more well-regarded university.

This does not sound like a real reason. If what they really want is a better grad school in the resume, they would have gotten that information from your resume, and would not have wasted their time and yours by inviting you for an interview.

And, even if it were true, there's absolutely nothing that you can do about it now.

Most likely, the real reason lies elsewhere.

Have a retrospect, talk to someone who can provide honest feedback (a friend, a mentor from college, a family member) on your appearances in an interview scenario. Remember, for most entry-level jobs, only technical excellence is not "the" criteria, there are various other factors come into play, like your overall aptitude, your personality, ability to teamwork, willingness to learn and implement new things etc. etc. Make sure to focus on the soft skills, too.

Best of luck.

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    It could be that they didn't like OP's attitude towards something, or perhaps perceived OP's reaction to something the wrong way, and needed an excuse to get rid of them. I think OP could think about anything they might have done or said, during the interview, to have induced that response from the employer (perhaps something that may have caused an immediate change in tone or interest). Of course, there's nothing they can do now, and it's entirely possible that the interviewer was being totally unreasonable or severely biased, but this is a possibility nonetheless. – QuickishFM Jul 9 at 15:59
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    @QuickishFM Or, maybe the university generally produces low-quality employees, or has poor track record, or simply the communication process (for any verification) is tough - maybe, may not be. We don't know for sure, but to be very honest, they are using that as an excuse. – Sourav Ghosh Jul 9 at 16:03
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    This is an excellent point. Did you list your college on your resume? If so, they already know it before they invited you to the interview. So why would they waste time interviewing you if they already knew they had disqualified you? Yes, it's more likely a polite excuse. They didn't want to say "you smell bad" or "you come across as a mumbling idiot". No need to be insulting, so just make up some convenient excuse. Or conceivably, they have a reason for excluding you that is illegal -- your race or marital status or whatever -- so they're not going to admit it. – Jay Jul 9 at 17:02
  • While I agree it's more plausible that this is a fake reason, it's also possible that they have a general expectation that candidates from this school won't be good ones (perhaps rightly so if it's a fake/predatory-for-profit thing), but also kow that they'll find a few really good candidates among the graduates from such schools and can then get away with underpaying them. – R.. Jul 9 at 17:57
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You cannot.

If your college is a barrier that is not something you can change their mind over.

Having said that, that may not actually be the real reason, as was hinted by a comment.

You should approach every interview with confidence in your qualifications. No employer (or at least one you'd want to work for) would pass on an excellent candidate because of the college they graduated from.

If you are getting heaps of useless interviews, you may want to consider making it more obvious about what college you graduated from. If you are not getting many chance, you may want to consider downplaying it in your resume, and hoping you can impress them before their preconceived notions kick in.

  • You could consider changing "that may not actually be the real reason" to "that is certainly not the real reason" – Wilson Jul 10 at 9:20
  • @Wilson The only reason I'm not is because sometimes the resume screeners don't do a good job, and these things get picked up by the interviewers instead. – Gregory Currie Jul 10 at 12:15
  • I'm from Italy and some years ago there was a peculiar situation with some private high shools that were too much generous with grades, so students exiting from those schools weren't prepared like the ones coming from a well-regarded public schools. Having an high school degree from the former ones was normally a red flag for the recruiters, but anyway sometimes they were interviewed because there was the chance that they were actually good at the work. – Michele L'Intenditore Jul 11 at 10:44
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Assuming that your college education is clearly listed then their responses are pure BS.

It could be that these employers simply have to meet an interview quota as a measure of "equal opportunity" and you keep making it to the interviews as a pawn meaning that you're good enough to get on the chess board but are usually the first to be relinquished.

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    That's pure speculation and even then it seems very far fetched. It costs employers to have interviews, so for them to know in advance that a candidate will be rejected just doesn't make sense that they would still go through with the interview. – John Hawthorne Jul 9 at 14:06
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    @JohnHawthorne Unless the employer themselves have answered then every answer on this page is pure speculation. It's cheaper than getting accused of not complying to equal opportunity. If the employer has 2 good matches and cannot make a hiring decision (extend an offer) unless they interview at least 4 people then they are not going to sit on their hands and wait for the 2 good matches to get jobs elsewhere. It is much more practical to give runner-ups a shot in the dark. – MonkeyZeus Jul 9 at 15:06
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    @JohnHawthorne: Depending on the employer, it may not be far-fetched. In the U.S., government agencies and companies who provide them services are often required to provide opportunities to minorities and those who are less well-off financially. In some such cases, the hiring manager(s) may already know who they want to hire, but some rule requires them to consider a certain number of candidates. In such a situation, they're not going to answer a query about why they didn't hire you with "We already knew who we would hire, we called you in to make quota"; instead they'll invent something. – GreenMatt Jul 9 at 18:03
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    Maybe I am too cynical, but this answer is a strong possibility. – jcmack Jul 9 at 18:15
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    Agree. This is entirely possible and has happened to me. I was invited to an interview with a large bank. The interviewers were all from a certain subcontinent. Then when they gave me a quick tour of the floor I kid you not I did not see a single person who was not of their race. Needless to say I didn't get the position. Things like this happen in the real world and there's not much that can be done about it. You can make all the discrimination laws you like people find ways to circumvent them. – solarflare Jul 11 at 2:58
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It can be difficult (and sometimes risky) for interviewers to provide honest feedback. Instead, what you are being given is a lazy and rather thoughtless/unkind replacement for feedback.

You are probably being given this feedback for one of the following reasons:

  1. it is much easier to give this kind of feedback than more nuanced, truthful feedback.
  2. it is hard to refute/dispute
  3. it is half true, perhaps the winning candidate came from a better university but the university wasn't a major factor in the selection process
  4. the university was used as a tiebreaker to choose from two equally good candidates (this is the least likely scenario)

As other people have pointed out, it is unlikely that multiple companies would invite you to interview without noticing where your degree has come from. If they invite you to interview then you are in with a chance.

The good news is that after a couple of jobs people will stop commenting on your university (or will at least be transparently stupid for commenting on it). The bad news is that people will start giving non-feedback about something else.

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I have a hard time imagining how an interview came around to you explaining how your not-ivy education was "very similar to ivy league listings". I feel like something had to have already gone wrong for it to get to that point. It's also possible that the explanation itself rubbed people the wrong way somehow.

Instead of comparing your college to something else, perhaps you should rather focus on its specific strengths and what you gained from the education that you got there. Perhaps small class sizes and ready access to your professors? You worked with interesting and diverse people? Internships or self-study opportunities? You feel the focus on group work really equipped you to be a team player?

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If you have been applying for a very specific type of position and company, it's possible that the job is in one of the narrow categories where connections and who you know (by going to "elite" university) are just as important as your performance in college. The only thing that comes to mind are some very competitive job titles, at certain law firms, in certain parts of the US. There may be a few more niches like that.

To fix the problem of rejection from a very narrow type of job: apply for different job descriptions, less well-known companies, or different locations. It's not unheard of to go through 30-40 interviews for an "average" job anyways!

3

Possible reason for denial

It is entirely possible, as happens startlingly frequently (based on anecdotal evidence), that the real reason you were denied was an illegal reason which nobody will state since that would allow you to sue the company, so instead you get the best false excuse they can muster.

If you have some protected status or taboo quality which can be known by others when they look at you or talk to you, then this might be likely. If you look foreign, homosexual, religious, female, old, etc., or if any of these (or other) qualities can be understood from what you say, and if you are in any area where bigotry against this is high, then it is understandable - though troubling, often shameful, and regrettable.

Anecdote

I once came in for a final interview which was with the CTO of a mid-to-large organization. I made the mistake of saying something that gave away some knowledge about me that some people dislike, but it was something that is protected by law here. I knew people who worked at that place who all but 100% confirmed for me that the real reason I wasn't chosen was illegal, and that didn't surprise me. In fact, this has happened not once, but twice, where I knew from good quality inside information that the hiring manager wanted to hire me but was refused from higher up with no official reason but with suggestions as to the illegal nature of the decision.

If you do fall into this category, don't make the mistake of assuming that everyone is a bigot. Sometimes you just don't get chosen for normal reasons. But sometimes it's not so innocent. For the times when it is obvious that this is happening, it is so extremely difficult to prove that it is not worth it to fight that battle legally.

"Is there any way to fix this?"

If this is your problem, unfortunately there might not be a way to fix this. If you suspect this is your problem, you could try minimizing or removing whatever it is that gives away your status. I noticed that when I changed something about myself which gave away one of my important life choices, people immediately started treating me differently, and not just interviewers but friends and family too. A few years later when I removed that change so that I no longer gave that information away, people - including interviewers - started treating me better again.

So if you wear a rainbow pin, a tie with the Mexican flag on it, or if you wear a religious garment, have grey or white hair that can be dyed, or any other little thing that makes a protected status known, no matter how small and non-imposing you might think it is (and even more if it is large and imposing), you can probably "fix" this by removing this and looking more normal. Quotes around "fix" because I use that term very loosely.

This is a big choice to make. People should not have to change this just to be accepted, and it is depressing to face this when the issue is important to you. But, to add to my anecdotes, when I changed myself to appear more normal I very quickly started receiving more positive responses from interviews and more job offers. When I was myself, I struggled to get dead-beat employers who were offering way, way, way lowballed salaries to so much as acknowledge me and I got 0 offers from many interviews... but once I suppressed myself (ie: No longer wore my choice on my sleeve) I started getting job offers that were reasonable - and was even able to turn some offers down that I would nearly have begged for before.

So give it a lot of thought, as it is not something to take lightly. Choose if accepting bigotry and denying yourself is worth it. I was depressed for a while, but it becomes much easier to deal with in time.

And, alas: If your real reason for being denied fits into my description above but there is nothing you can do about it, such as if you look foreign and live in an area with much racism, then I am very sorry that my answer will not work for you.

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    Also possible the "illegal" discrimination isn't the issue but wearing whatever it was on the sleeve was the real issue. I don't actually do hiring, but if I did I wouldn't mind hiring a black man but I would mind hiring a man who talks about race a lot. I don't wanna even think about it. – Joshua Jul 9 at 21:59
  • @Joshua That is an interesting point of view. I could understand you not wanting to hire a person who looks completely like a man because that person keeps scolding everyone constantly and telling them to use feminine pronouns and does so many times during interviews, but what about for just wearing a rainbow tie or patch? Or, someone who tells every woman they are endangering their souls and should cover their heads vs. someone who just wears a tie with a cross on it or carries a bible with them? Many degrees and layers to this. Too much to continue in depth here, unfortunately. – Aaron Jul 10 at 14:33
  • @Joshua Also, while your statement might be true for some of the cases, I know that discrimination is at least equally likely, if not more. You talk about it becoming a distraction, but in my case for example there were multiple people who disliked what I did who themselves made it a distraction: I did not bring it up myself, but others would. So "I don't wanna even think about it" in my case could have been accomplished by those folks by not talking about it themselves. And I think this is more often the case. But your point is a good one and should be noted and remembered. – Aaron Jul 10 at 14:37
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    @Aaron I think Joshua's point was that regardless of race (non-discriminatory), if you insist on bringing up charged topics even in the most casual conversation, then it is a "no". It doesn't matter what ethnicity. – Nelson Jul 11 at 2:57
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It's always hard to see what you look like from the interviewer's chair, because you're sitting in the wrong seat for that view. If you have friends who already work at some of the companies in which you have interest, you should talk to them about how their interviews went, but especially ask if they can find out what kinds of things the interviewers are looking for, or red flags which often disqualify candidates.

If your friends are also mostly recent grads, they will likely not have any experience on the interviewer side, but they may have gotten to know some coworkers who do participate in interviews. If you are really lucky, you might get one of those more experienced coworkers-of-friends to do a mock phone screen with you and give you honest feedback about how they might evaluate you in a real interview scenario.

Try to attend a job fair. At least in the tech world, those are usually staffed with engineers and managers who can do quick on-the-spot screening interviews and possibly give you more useful feedback. Try to make more experienced connections, via LinkedIn and other professional networking resources. Perhaps your family has some connection to a veteran in your industry that will give you honest interview feedback.

Finally, consider the possibility that you have overestimated your skills. Interview with companies that you consider lower tier until you start getting offers. Don't take this personally, but something like 60% of individuals believe they are above-average. It's possible that you have the skills to work at the level you believe you are at, but you are just missing on "culture fit". In a lot of cases, that means the candidate is overconfident based on their evaluated skill set and perhaps doesn't accept hints and suggestions well during the interview process. Don't think about your interviews from your perspective. Put on your interview hat and ask yourself: "How do other people perceive my answers and interactions?"

  • Just for argument's sake: if you have 10 individuals and 9 of them rank a '9' (whatever that means) and 1 ranks a '1', 90% of them will be "above average." – MrWonderful Jul 9 at 22:25
  • It's a fair point, but the Central Limit Theorem tells us that the large population of employees is most likely Gaussian, so your scenario would require a large, unexplained skewness. If there is skew in the distribution, the long tail is far more likely to be on the high end than the low, making the scenario opposite of what you demonstrate. – Lawnmower Man Jul 12 at 20:39
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you can't do anything about this. I didn't even get interview calls from many of top/good companies of my field,just because of my college. Earlier , I was thinking about this, but now i don't. I don't need any another guy/another company to tell/educate me who i'm or from which background i belong. I know myself and know what I can do. It's their bad luck, as there hiring process/criteria isn't good enough to pick a good candidate. Why should i care about them. There are other organizations/companies who can hire/select you and there you can show your skill/potential.

Treat a company/workplace just like a platform where you can show your skills. Some people get a big platform and some got other kind of platform to perform. I know --there are some other people in the market who create their own platform ->set their own benchmarks, set their own goals and achieve them. It doesn't matter at all where you get selected/rejected or where you work. All that matter is-> How you treat/face the situation and how to convert a problem into a solution/opportunity. Not every person get chance to have a quality education/good schooling/college/education institute.

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