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So, What’s Harvard Like?

I’ve stolen from several of my previous postings in an attempt to answer a question that I’m often asked about…

SO, WHAT’S HARVARD LIKE?

A Crap Factory

Back in 2003, a college interviewer asked me what my favorite movie was. In any other circumstance, the answer would have been easy: Miss Congeniality, a story about an undercover cop-turned beauty queen who saves Miss Rhode Island from exploding onstage as William Shatner  serenades the crowd. A true classic, in my opinion. However, in that moment, I reckoned that Miss Congeniality would be about as well-received as an outbreak of genital herpes.  A Beautiful Mind, I decided, was a safer bet. It’s my favorite movie, I told the interviewer, because it depicts how Nash overcame the psychological struggle within himself to bring about one of the most important mathematical theorems of our time.

And on that load of crap, I got myself into Harvard.

Defusing The H-Bomb

One of my mom’s favorite Asian soap operas is called “Love Story in Harvard.”  I watched the first episode with her, which featured two graduate students arriving in Cambridge.  They find that Harvard is every bit the torture chamber that they expected.  The students don’t sleep.  They don’t eat.  They spend all their waking hours poring over their thousand-page textbooks.  Upon the eve of a big test, one student starts crying and screaming bloody murder. 

That’s the outside perception of what Harvard students are like.  We’re essentially sleep-deprived, bookworm zombies with limited social skills and poor hygiene habits.  (Some of that is not far from the truth.)

Because of this, alumni like to talk about the best way to “drop the H-bomb,” which is telling people that you went to Harvard (eg. was part of the zombie clan).  The H-bomb is referred to as such because of its cataclysmic result, no matter the initial intention.  When you tell people that you went to Harvard, you get one of three reactions: awe, indifference, or “fight me.”

1.      Awe: “Wow! What was it like?  Do you really have Quidditch matches on Sundays?  You’re like a genius, aren’t you?”

2.      Indifference: “I heard they have good popcorn chicken.”

3.      Fight Me: “So what did you get on your SATs?  That’s not that impressive.  I heard there’s a lot of grade inflation there.  Did your parents go there?  Are they super rich?  Your grandfather donated a statue, didn’t he?  Whatever, I make more money than you.”

When I first arrived at Harvard in 2003, I was squarely in the first camp.  I was in awe of the place.  Save for the severely narcissistic, many Harvard freshmen come in believing that they were the admissions mistake.  I certainly felt like one.  I wasn’t the high school valedictorian, I didn’t have a perfect score on my SATs, and I had no unique talents, like playing the obokano.  The only reason I felt somewhat legit was that my grandparents hadn’t donated a statue.  At least I couldn’t be accused of being a legacy admit.

For some students, the question of “How did they get in?” was immediately answered.  One of my freshman roommates, Bella*, could speak five languages and was from Albania.  Don was a junior Olympian skier.   And Vinny won $25,000 on Jeopardy in high school and could recite the capitals of all the countries in the world.  But for the rest of us who could barely point out Albania on a map, we were mired in our admissions-mistake insecurity.

The night we threw burning boxes into the Charles

However, after a few weeks on campus, I began to see Harvard differently.  Yes, it was a place of high-achieving, intelligent people… but there were exceptions. There were people who were IQ-smart, but socially incapable of talking about anything but quantum physics.  There were people who received terrific grades, but did so as a result of studying all day and night.  And then there were people who were so clearly admissions mistakes that they simply gave up trying to prove otherwise, and spent most of their time doing coke at the Fly and ice-luging goldfish.

To be in awe of Harvard, the institution, was understandable… but as for us humble members of the student body?  The overachievers, the bookworms, the “How did they get in?” mysteries?  Well, we were just plain lucky (and good at lying about movies).

When asked to describe my experience at Harvard, there is one incident that always comes to mind.  A few weeks into my first semester, I was having dinner in the freshman dining hall when I overheard someone earnestly describing a night out with some prudent strippers: “They let us get real close, but we couldn’t touch them… it’s like they were asymptotes.”

I’m not even being hyperbolic.  True story.

Korean Soap Operas Had Nothing on Us

There were certainly moments of my Harvard experience that rivaled the drama of the Korean soap.  One night, I awoke to a loud, bloodcurdling scream from my multilingual roommate, Bella.  Something we quickly learned about Bella was that not only did she have a talent for languages, but she had a particular affinity for four-letter words.

“FUCK,” she screamed, “FUCK-FUCK-FUCK-FUCK-FUCK!”

“Bella, what happened?”  I peeked out of my bedroom.  It was 2 in the morning, but Bella and Kendra, my other roommate, were still studying at their desks in the common room.

“Oh my God,” Bella exclaimed, “I’m FUCKED.  I’m so fucked.  Oh my God…”  She started crying.

“Bella, what’s wrong?”  I was genuinely concerned: did a scholarship get revoked?  Did a payment not go through?  What would elicit such a strong reaction?

“I got lotteried out of a class!”  Bella sobbed, “I’m so SCREWED.”

Street performer with a fire hat in Harvard Square

Some background: when I was at Harvard, we had to fulfill “CORE” requirements in areas outside of our concentration.  So for example, English majors would have to take a Quantitative Reasoning (QR) CORE course, to fulfill their math requirement.  CORE courses were typically a joke: one QR course was called “Counting People.” Another was called, “The Magic of Numbers.” Naturally, these CORE courses were always oversubscribed, mostly because they were so ridiculously easy (at least for anyone who could count).  Thus, some CORE classes were lottery-only; juniors and seniors received preference, while freshmen were frequently lotteried out.  But even if you were lotteried out of a course, you could always take it in a later semester.  You only needed to fulfill your CORE requirements before graduation.

“Seriously, Bella?”  It was 2 AM, and I was now pissed that I had been woken up because of this.

“What am I going to do?  I was planning on taking ‘The Magic of Numbers’ this semester!  Oh my God, my entire schedule is ruined!”  Bella was still sobbing, unaware that Kendra and I were completely unsympathetic.

“Uh, how about take a separate class, and then take Magic Numbers next semester?”

“I can’t take another class!  I haven’t sat in on any other classes!  Oh my God, I am so FUCKED!”

It took another hour to calm Bella down, and to convince her that she was not seriously fucked if she just took a different class.

Nights like these were rare, but they did happen at Harvard.

Another time, Bella and Kendra got into a huge argument about a class that they were taking together.  The professor had assigned a paper, and apparently they had discussed what they would write about with each other.  Somehow, each had gotten the impression that the other had stolen their original idea.  They both came to me, crying, and accusing the other of “stealing their thesis.”  Never mind that this was an assignment where all two hundred students probably had the same “thesis” for this paper… But Bella and Kendra didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the semester.

At most colleges, people fight over stealing boyfriends.  At Harvard, the ultimate sin is stealing theses.  These are dramas fitting for soap operas like “Love Story in Harvard.”

Crème de la Crème

At Harvard, there was never a dearth of stimulating conversation.  Even though there was a distinct liberal, do-good slant at Harvard, we were all undeniably snooty.  In a place where jocks complained about asymptotic strippers, we reveled in our seemingly superior intellectuality.  Just by virtue of being at Harvard, we convinced ourselves that we were the smartest, most accomplished, and best-looking scholars and future leaders of America… the crème de la crème.

This was not considered “classy”

There were all types of snooty, from grunge snooty to Upper East Side snooty.  There were artists who flocked together in their rebellion and harangued the world of conformists and sellouts. There were well-heeled suits and pearl-wearing debutantes-to-be who hosted chardonnay parties and talked about dollar cost averaging. Beat poetry coexisted with popped collars; debates about Burma with tirades about taxes.

Snootiness was commonplace, whether it was intentional or not.  One friend used to speak in only grammatically correct sentences, leading her to use phrases like, “Flo-Rida, whom I love…”  Another friend enjoyed abusing telephone operators when asked to spell out letters over the phone: “It’s ‘M’ as in Mary, ‘A’ as in Apple, and ‘P’ as in Pterodactyl.”

But at the same time, the intellectualism of the institution overwhelmed us.  After all, we were living in a world where Harvard had drawn the line between “high” culture and “low” culture.   We were supposed to value the New Yorker over Us Weekly, Italian wines over Franzia, and opera over Oprah.  Classical music and Jane Austen were culturally superior to Justin Timberlake and Agatha Christie.  There were entire departments dedicated to the study of Greek and Roman civilizations, and only a few sociology classes focused on modern culture.  Pop culture was considered so foreign and extraneous that it was relegated to the field of anthropological studies: along with Zulu tribesmen, Charlie Sheen is simply a curious human phenomenon.

It was quasi-sacrilegious to admit that one enjoyed reading undeep, unanalytical, unintellectual publications like InTouch Weekly, filled with uncompoundable compound words.  At Harvard, you could get away with being a Marxist, but it was something else to admit that you were an avid O-Town fan.  Miss Congeniality was not the same as A Beautiful Mind.

It’s no surprise, then, that GQ named Harvard the fourth-douchiest American university.  We were only beaten by Princeton, Duke, and Brown, which was first.  Of course, as this link circulated around our Harvard circle like wildfire, someone had to make the snooty, douchy comment: “I suppose this is the only list on which Brown will be #1 ahead of Harvard.”

Where My $150,000 Went

During my senior year of college, a relative asked me: “So now that you’re almost graduating, what’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from Harvard?”

The yard

It seemed like an innocuous question, but I knew that there was an already-implied $150,000 answer, thanks to Good Will Hunting (”You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library”). The best response to this kind of inquiry would involve something uber-academic and arcane, like “vector spaces” or the neurobiology of whales, with some Plato thrown in for good measure. Given my studies in Economics, Psychology, and Government, I tried to recall the most exotic facets of the social sciences. But at that moment, just a few months away from graduation, I could barely remember what I learned about convergence theorems, double-blind studies, or legal proceedings in the United States. I may have read Plato in my “Issues in Ethics” class freshman year, but I’d forgotten all of his issues. And I certainly couldn’t talk about whale brains.

I dutifully recited some boring tenets of basic economic theory, and my relatives seemed satisfied.

Two years after graduation, I went back to Harvard for a visit. Just walking around the Yard brought back memories from the streets of the Cambridge. As a freshman, I once walked into the Crate and Barrel on Mass Ave and asked for directions… to Mass Ave. On Saturday, as an elderly alum, I expertly weaved through the crowds and reminisced about the days when the campus was mine, when the memories were happening. And now that I’m a few years older, ostensibly wiser, and wholly entrenched in the “real world”, I can finally admit to what I learned (and retained) at Harvard:

I learned that Harvard students are the best and the brightest in the world at avoiding solicitors outside the Science Center. I learned how to make the perfect spiral on my fro-yo cone after years of trial-and-error (and a couple spills). I learned to dodge tourists like a running back, and not to rub the foot of the John Harvard statue.

With my $150,000 education, I know now that a naked run in the brisk midnight air is the key to surviving ensuing exams. I know that one shouldn’t venture into the Sanskrit section of Widener unless she want to see that same nudeness in full light. I know that it’s “ec”, not “econ,” and “gov,” not “political science.” I know that if you remove the “i” from “assistance” you have the labels on our blue light emergency phone stations.  Because even at Harvard, a pole that says “Ass stance” is funny.

So, what’s the most interesting thing I’ve learned from Harvard? It’s that these insights came far more rapidly than my recall of the Solow model. It’s that these learnings have taken priority in the annals of my tiny whale brain. It’s that these memories–from the dorms, from the tailgates, from the Kong–have replaced Adam Smith. It may not sound like the typical Harvard admissions pitch, but it’s definitely something you can’t get for $1.50 in late charges at the public library.

* All names changed to protect me from getting sued when these people become big shots and I’m still starving as a struggling writer.

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That’s Why I Chose Harvard

Even though we’ve produced embarrassing YouTube clips before*, Harvard really can’t beat the following admissions video from Yale.  “That’s Why I Chose Yale” is a 16 minute musical that was recently released by the Yale Admissions Office.

In the video, we’re welcomed into the magical world of Yale, where students sing about “college” and “knowledge” (2:05), gawk over Brian Williams (6:43), and perform synchronized dancing in the courtyard (13:30), complete with gyrating Chinese lion in the background.  Of course, there is no mention of Death By New Haven or George W. Bush, but every school must hide their skeletons when producing the ugly stepsister of High School Musical.

Yale, this is one time where we’ll let you be #1.  And now, for the award of Best Campy Admissions Video More Suited For a DeVry Institute of Technology Commercial:

Sadly, Harvard could never make such a musical because of our disyllabic name (“That’s Why I Chose Harv-ard” just isn’t suited to rhyming and song).  But, in response to the video, Harvard can come up with a new admissions slogan that fits in with their catchy tune: “At Least We’re Not Yale.”

* Harvard Quidditch, Harvard crawling champ

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Glass Ceilings Could Be Shattered With Glass Bathroom Walls

It’s a known fact that finance is a male-dominated industry.  There’s Buffett, and Soros, and Madoff, and the banker on Deal or No Deal: all men.  In the sausagefest of finance, the only female presence is the wife, the mistress, or the diversity-hire (who, even if she is competent, will be forever tarnished by the suggestion of affirmative action).

Of course, this goes beyond finance — there are far more male CEOs, politicians, movie producers, and leaders not only in the United States, but in the rest of the world.  There are no women in the Forbes 50 richest Americans who made her money outside of inheritance.  Even though women make up half of the world’s population, most of the power is held by men.

Social scientists have long theorized about the existing power gap between men and women.  Some explanations are cultural.  Some are steered in tradition.  And some resort to “biological differences.”  That is, women build consensus; men build tall buildings to showcase their phallic power.

My theory is simple: it’s partly biological, and partly environmental.

I believe that men are more powerful because they pee standing up.

Think about it.  From a very young age, men are trained to pee into a urinal.  They are brought up in a world with literally no walls: there is very little privacy between them.  And if you head into a stall, everyone knows what kind of business is going on.  The result?  Reduced inhibitions from a world with no boundaries, and greater camaraderie with your fellow man.

Meanwhile, there are metaphoric and physical walls that separate women from each other.  The physical act of releasing waste is incredibly private.  Outside of her feet, you don’t tend to see other women in the act of peeing.  I even cringe when I write “releasing waste” — because unlike men, most women don’t feel as comfortable talking about these things.  At least not with strangers.

So, from this theory, men are more comfortable in their own skin, more sociable with strangers, and more likely to take risks.  Women are walled in, siloed, and discomfited by others knowing all of their business.  It’s no wonder why men enjoy finance: they’re used to whipping ’em out and measuring ’em, whereas women don’t/can’t really do that.

Of course, like any good theory, there are its notable exceptions.  I’m guessing that Oprah would have no qualms about peeing in front of other women.  And there are incredibly awkward yet successful men who don’t fit the mold.  In 2006, I got rejected by then-college-president Larry Summers when I asked if I could “lei” him at a campus BBQ/luau — I was holding a lei of flowers… He just turned around and walked away.

Doesn’t seem like a guy who’s comfortable in his own skin… Perhaps some of these things, we simply have to blame on inherent biological differences.

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Seeking Outliers on a Normal Distribution

With all our freaks, geeks, and future politicians/sex solicitors, Harvard doesn’t really have a reputation for churning out “normal” people.  Most people believe that all Harvard students do in college is sleep and study, which doesn’t allow for any social interaction whatsoever.  Some of this is well-founded.  At our senior trip to a Red Sox game, I saw a girl furiously doing her math homework, calculator and all, right there in the bleachers of Fenway Park.  Harvard 1, Normal 0.

Most Harvard people, though, do come out pretty well-adjusted after college.  Unlike popular perception, we don’t always wear our elitist blazers with cashmere sweaters tied around our necks.  We don’t drink alcohol out of lab beakers and carry TI-83s to calculate our BACs (we do that in our heads). We still get shwastey-faced and make bad decisions at shady bars with unattractive strangers.

In fact, to show how normal we really are, let me tell you about “Chase”, a fellow Harvard grad from Jersey.

Chase is just another twenty-something with a steady job, a sweet girlfriend, and a gregarious personality.  He’s a very nice guy with good intentions.  But, he’s also crazy.  Crazy in a totally normal, Florida State way.

Even though I would best describe him as an “acquaintance,” I’ve seen Chase get drunk, get in fights, and get naked and run through the streets.  I’ve seen him projectile vomit, pass out, and ice-luge goldfish (multiple times, though not necessarily in that order).  At the Harvard-Yale tailgate on Saturday, I saw Chase operating at his very best: funneling Buds and leading raucous cheers about how much Yale sucks.

See?  At Harvard, we do have typical, jock-ish frat boys with high tolerances and low inhibitions.  So, you can say it: Harvard–they’re just like us!  (Notice how I reference popular mag Us Weekly to show how normal I am.)

Then again, as much as we love “normal” people (like Sarah Palin), perhaps we do need our leaders to deviate from the normal distribution.  I think I speak for everyone when I say that I don’t want our President crushing beers on his head while memorizing the nuclear codes.

“Do you realize,” my friend mused, as we watched Chase shotgun another Bud, “That Chase could be the Republican senator of New Jersey one day?”

At least it’s just Jersey.

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Harvard Magazine Personal Ads: You Complete Me ( )

When you graduate from Harvard, you’re automatically put on the distribution list for Harvard Magazine, a monthly publication full of big words and BMW spreads.  Each month, I eagerly await my issue.  When I finally get it in the mail, I go straight to the classifieds, to the land of people who love Mozart, clam bakes, and “the outdoors.”  There is truly nothing more entertaining than reading Harvard personals.

Every personal ad in Harvard Mag starts out the same.  It’s almost always a woman, over 40, who is “sensual” and “witty.”  I imagine that prior to placing this ad, she’s endured several blind dates, countless eHarmony mismatches, and more than a few country club flings.

In this month’s issue (Nov-Dec), there were 25 personal ads.

  • personals21 of the 25 ads were taken out by women looking for men (only 1 was for a man looking for a woman… the 3 others were dating service ads)
  • 3 of the women were CEOs or CFOs
  • 5 ads mentioned France or something French… examples of appropriate shout-outs: joie de vive, coq au vin, Musée de Orsay
  • Hobbies that received multiple mentions: traveling, skiing, photography, Maine, birdwatching, and biscuits

I don’t know why I get so much pleasure from reading the mini-resumes of the old and lonely.  Perhaps I’m seeing my future… I have to pick up tips on how to write my own personal ad, twenty years from now.

So, how will it go?  Here are some lines I liked from this month’s magazine:

“Feel like an unpaired electron?” … I do!  All the time.  And you do too?  Well… isn’t that ionic?

“Extremely cute… dark alluring eyes hint at mystery and reveal quick intelligence and happy surprises.” …This is from the first woman who likes biscuits.  She also describes herself as “slender”.  Are you happily surprised?

“Magic ability to playfully enjoy humor.” …This is the second woman who likes biscuits.  She would like my “ionic” joke.  Blame it on magic.

“Looking forward to meeting personable man (59-73)” … Apparently, 74 is just too old.  And unless she has a strange aversion to numbers 58 and below, I’m guessing that she is 59 years old.  She ain’t no cradle robber.

“Great legs.  Classy, approachable, adventurous… can catch 75lb sailfish.” … Sailfish are the fastest fish in the world (I learned this from “Fun Fish Facts” in a D’Angelos kids meal), so she must have nice legs to catch one of those bad boys.

“Warm, classy, intellectual not dry or stuffy, just the real deal.” …Tell it like it is, homegirl.

So, with these cues in mind, here is my own Harvard Magazine personal ad.  I made it rhyme, just because it shows off my magic ability to playfully enjoy humor:

Are you an open parenthesis?  Have you always been looking for someone to complete your thoughts?  Complete your life? Well, I can turn your parenthesis into parentheses / I can turn your “me” into “us” and your “I” into “we” /  I am sexy and sensual and very classy / I like opera and Shakespeare and good duck confit (there’s my something French) / I look forward to meeting a man who can try / To love me and look me right straight in the eye / And tell me my legs are the best he has seen / Then feed me some biscuits all covered in cream / And though he must be over 18 in age / I don’t mind an old geezer as long as he pays… / …attention to me, and that’s all that I care / If he’s jobless or homeless or bald without hair / As long as I know that he really wants me / I just want to complete my parentheses, please.

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Dropping the H-Bomb

This evening as I was walking home from work, I overheard a couple having an animated discussion about dropping the H-Bomb.  The stalker that I am, I creepily loitered by a street meat vendor, pretending to be conflicted about a lamb kabob while listening in on the rest of their conversation.

Alas, these were not Japanese tourists, nor disturbingly-hawkish Americans.  Instead, they were former graduate students from Harvard, discussing the best way to “drop the H-Bomb,” a.k.a. to tell people that you went to Harvard.

hbombThe H-Bomb is referred to as such because of its cataclysmic result, no matter the initial intention.  Some people drop the H-Bomb everywhere, proudly showing off their Harvard knee socks, cuff links, and embroidered crimson hankerchiefs. Others would rather tell you that they went to Bunker Hill Community College than Harvard, forcing you to dig deep to get it out of them (“Where did you go to school?”  “In Boston.”  “Where in Boston?”  “Cambridge.”  “What school in Cambridge?”  “Just a small school by the river…”)

Harvard’s reputation necessitates a certain prudence when dropping the bomb.  Some imagine that Harvard is just a stomping ground for douchy guys who tie cashmere sweaters around their necks.  Others believe that it’s a torture factory that turns nerds into white-collar criminals.  General consensus, though, is that Harvard students are sleep-deprived, bookworm zombies with limited social skills, poor hygiene habits, and argyle socks.  (Some of that is not far from the truth.)

So inevitably, when you drop the H-Bomb, you get one of three reactions: awe, indifference, or “fight me.”

  1. Awe: “Wow! What was it like?  Do you really have Quidditch matches on Sundays?  You’re like a genius, aren’t you?”
  2. Indifference: “Hmm. I heard they’re no longer serving hot breakfast.”
  3. Fight Me: “So what did you get on your SATs?  That’s not that impressive.  I heard there’s a lot of grade inflation there.  Did your parents go there?  Are they super rich?  Your grandfather donated a statue, didn’t he?  Whatever, I make more money than you.”

Holworthy colorMore often than not, the reactions fall into either #1 or #3.  At these extremes, Harvard alums are either deified or insulted.  Deification, however, can turn into insult in a hurry: forgot what the capital of Italy was?  “And you went to Harvard?”  Mistakenly thought Winston Churchill was still alive?  “And you went to Harvard?”  Was taken to the hospital after you threw up tequila in the streets?  “And you went to Harvard?”

Ultimately, unless you dropped out of school with a billion-dollar idea like Bill Gates, all Harvard alums will suffer from the Saturday Night Live effect.  The SNL effect is based off the premise that most people believe SNL isn’t as good now as it was in the past.  That’s mainly because the only skits we see from the past are the good ones, whereas all the crappy skits were burned to a crisp in California wildfires.  Similarly, as a Harvard grad, we are immediately expected to become the next boy-genius President, or else we’re just huge failures.  It’s tough when everyone expects you to pull a Church Lady out of the hat every single time… But, such is the curse.

Thus, many Harvard grads are incredibly insecure–and this is why we love the H-Bomb.  The H-Bomb gives us some recongition, good or bad, that we were mildly important at some time.  We derive some smug satisfaction out of being loved or hated.  So we talk about the H-Bomb.  We write about the H-Bomb.  We name campus sex magazines after the H-Bomb (now defunct).  And we pile up our H-Bomb degrees, whether we need them or not.

But in the end, we need to find the Church Lady, to find that something that will define us outside of Harvard.  I know that in the future, the douchy, nerdy, future white-collar criminal in me will always be there, thanks to my four years in Cambridge.  At the same time, I’m pretty sure I’ll sully the prestigious Harvard name by forgetting some easy world capitals along the way.  So, I want to pull off a #1 without having to drop the H-Bomb at all.  It may take me years, decades, or lifetimes… But, such is the dream.

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I Want Them to Like Me For Who I Am… But, I Also Need a Job!

Last night, I decided to update my resume, which I hadn’t touched in over a year and a half.  The idealistic side of me hates the concept of a resume: after all, this one piece of paper is supposed to define who you are, how well you work, and whether or not you’d be interesting if stuck in an elevator.  Or, in summary, if we [the hiring firm] should even give you [the person with the pink, perfumed resume] a chance.

fibresume

Click on this image to get a (potentially helpful) resume template

So in principle, I hate resumes, just because of my romantic belief that a person’s job fate should not be defined by a single piece of paper.  At the same time, I hate all the other alternatives to getting a job as well.  At Harvard, we used to have handfuls of networking events once recruiting season started in the fall.  These events were all invariably the same.  There were always drinks, a gaggle of suited representatives, piles of promotional materials, and the usual giveaways, like Nalgene bottles and mouse pads.  The best networking events also had food: typically an assortment of cheeses, fruits, and before the recession, finger food.

There were three distinct groups of people at networking events.  The first group was the Hustlers.  The Hustlers got business cards, kissed up to the senior representatives, and pounded out thank-you notes by the time they got back to their dorm room.  The second group was the Legacies.  The Legacies already had their job secured, whether it was because they’d interned at the firm last summer, or because their daddy was very powerful.  The Legacies would spend most of their time drinking free wine in the corner and talking about how many goldfish they’d ice-luged the night before.  The last group was the Eaters, of which I was mostly a part.  The Eaters were only at the event for the food.  Eaters had been to so many networking events that we had become connoisseurs of cheese.  We would gather near the kitchen door, position ourselves for the crab cakes to come out, and only talk to reps if we could score an invitation to a company-sponsored dinner.

cheeseplateOverall, networking at Harvard was what I imagine speed dating is like: you talk to a lot of people who try to make their job sound more exciting than it actually is, and you eat a lot of cheese.  The ultimate goal of a networking event?  To impress someone so much that you get a second date: an interview.

So, this is my advice to college graduates hoping to land a job.  In order to get your foot in the door, all you need to do is: a) Deliver a kick-ass resume, with perfect formatting and lots of action verbs, or b) Act like a Hustler at a networking event.  Again, while my idealistic self would like to add in c) Just be yourself, I think that probably works about as well in recruitment circles as it does in speed dating.  That is, it doesn’t.

Happy job/woman/man huntin’!

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