This is the scenery when I attended the job interview for senior lecturer where small group of smart individuals were asked to describe their professional achievements. One candidate explained: “I studied economics at University of Indonesia , worked at Bakri’s group for two years, then Ciputra Group. After finishing my ITB Master of Management , I took a banking job at Bank Central Asia. When this candidate sat down, the others followed in much the same pattern, proudly rattling off their personal laundry lists of the prestigious companies they’d worked for and the top-tier universities they’d attended. Being one of candidates who notably graduated from the mediocre university, I feel my opportunity to get this job is so tiny but to my surprise, I make it happen. So what’s wrong with those guys from prominent companies and top-tiers university?
Traditionally, according to Daniel Gulati, the co-author of Passion & Purpose: Stories from the Best and Brightest Young Business Leaders, associating yourself with a prestigious brand did wonders for your career because of the signalling effect. Employees could credibly convey information about themselves by gaining experience at certain companies and acquiring academic credentials. If you got into Bakri’s Group, you might be a good negotiator with government proved with the unsettled Lapindo’s volcano mud in East Java. If University of Indonesia admitted you, you’re a high-potential scientist. If you are from English Department of Lambung Mangkurat University, you might perform well in other jobs beside English teachers. But a core assumption of job-market signalling theory is between employers and prospective employees. In other words, employers have to rely on imperfect signals as ways to glean information about potential hires. In today’s world, this assumption no longer holds.
Ironically, proudly flaunting your affiliations — company, university, or club — will only make you more of a commodity: another banker, another prominent graduate, another know-it-all scientist. Instead of just resume-gardening, distinguishing yourself through real, tangible accomplishments shows the world what you’ve actually done while de-emphasizing who accepted you into their organization. The latter is a superficial vanity device designed to boost confidence; the former is a validated, objective measure of your skills and experience.
Here’s why prestige matters less than ever in Indonesia.
Graduate from Oxford is not a guarantee
1. Prestigious companies have suffered. The Financial Crisis tainted the reputations of some of the Indonesia largest corporations — from big banks to blue chips like Astra , Telkom and other recent corporate scandals like Bank Century have only fueled existing doubts. Signalling loses relevance to the extent that these organizations no longer confer credibility onto the individuals that join them.
2. Social media pierces the corporate veil. As the adoption of Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook continues to grow, we’re able to effectively separate the individual from the organization. Consumer internet platforms like these allow people to publish their output independent of their organizations, giving everyone a direct lens into an individual’s abilities and passions. This improves the underlying quality of information available, further reducing the need to signal the “old” way.
Indonesia ‘s largest companies and most prestigious universities deserve much respect. But being hired or admitted to these institutions is an opportunity to accomplish things, not the accomplishment itself. Therefore, a prudent strategy favors accumulating real accomplishments — revenues earned, clients transformed, or lives changed — in spite of any affiliations you may have.
As traditional notions of prestige are fast losing relevancy, we should all focus more on creating real value. If you’re lucky enough to have attended a great college or worked for a top company, you have an obligation to turn these affiliations into accomplishments. If you’re not one of the privileged few, you’re no longer at a disadvantage. Stand tall, because it’s mastering the process of consistently delivering results that will truly distinguish you in the end.
And this is that I have done so far though I never worked in big companies, not graduated from top-tier university but remain stand still in the midst of fierce competition.
Have a nice day and keep on working for a better Indonesia!