Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Thomas Friedman demonstrates the Roommate Effect

I have mixed feelings about criticizing Thomas Friedman. For one thing, it's been done. For another, he did some really impressive reporting on the Middle East and I suspect that, if he stuck to that topic, he would still be adding a great deal to the conversation.

In the role of public intellectual, though, he's pretty much been a disaster (insert Peter Principle digression here), and he keeps coming up with passages that are simply too representative not to use as examples of bad punditry.

Which brings us to the roommate effect. The roommate effect is one of the reasons that people who go to elite schools to tend do well professionally.

Imagine a small town populated predominately by people in their early 20s with similar backgrounds who are new to the area. Young people are good at making friends and this scenario is almost perfect for forming new relationships. You have roommates and friends and friends of roommates and roommates of friends. You meet people in the cafeteria and in the coffee houses and in the bars. You find people with common interests in music or movies or art or sports. These people tend to form much of the base of a social network that you will rely on for the rest of your life.

This part of the experience is common to anyone who has gone to a traditional college. But in an elite school, there is a fairly good chance that a new friends will be someone who is or is connected to someone who is rich/famous/powerful. Playing in a college pool league with the son of a Fortune 500 CEO is likely to be a good career move.

And that brings us to this recent Friedman column (mercilessly but not inaccurately satirized by Timothy Burke). The column is basically an unpaid advertorial for the job placement firm HireArt. The weaknesses of the column are a subject for another post; Friedman's lack of understanding of education and the job market is genuinely profound. However he does manage, quite unintentionally, to make an important point about the way things actually work (emphasis added for those who like to skim):
One of the best ways to understand the changing labor market is to talk to the co-founders of HireArt (www.hireart.com): Eleonora Sharef, 27, a veteran of McKinsey; and Nick Sedlet, 28, a math whiz who left Goldman Sachs. Their start-up was designed to bridge the divide between job-seekers and job-creators.

The way HireArt works, explained Sharef (who was my daughter’s college roommate), is that clients — from big companies, like Cisco, Safeway and Airbnb, to small family firms — come with a job description and then HireArt designs online written and video tests relevant for that job. Then HireArt culls through the results and offers up the most promising applicants to the company, which chooses among them.
In case you're wondering, Eleonora Sharef got her bachelor's from Yale.

No comments:

Post a Comment