Getting a Job in Corporate America: Why a Resume of Customer Service Might Trump a Harvard Degree.

Over the years I’ve hired my fair-share of recent college graduates for entry-level corporate jobs. Every time there was a job opening, hundreds of resumes landed on my desk. There was a time I’d look for relevant experience, and a college degree from a prestigious school. 

Then came a day when I realized I was barking up the wrong tree with these criteria. What I believed was the “proper” resume was not a true indicator of who would perform well in an entry-level corporate job.

My epiphany came after firing my third Harvard-degreed assistant. Nathan rowed for Harvard and graduated respectfully high in his class. The problem was, he wasn’t fitting in. He struggled getting along with the other assistants. He’d debate with senior executives over the smallest thing, and he was resistant to the late hours. He didn’t have the “can-do” and flexible attitude of some of my other hires.

You see, I wasn’t wrong all the time, in fact I had a pretty good track record and had hired dozens of junior-level executives who had moved quickly and justly up the corporate ladder. So what was it that made a bad egg in Corporate America?

I stopped and examined the commonalities of those who were successful in business. Whether from the Ivy League or a little known State school, the quality and reputation of a school didn’t seem to matter. Neither did participation in sports, semesters abroad or an internship at Dad’s law firm. What was similar in nearly every case, was a long resume in the service industry.

Yep, summer jobs at restaurants, hotels, and retail tell me more about how successful an entry-level applicant will be than a degree in business from Harvard, Stanford or UCLA. Being a waiter, a check-in clerk or concierge, Lifeguard or an Apple Store Blue Shirt are hige pluses on a resume.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of higher education. Most members of my family are academics—professors of higher education. In fact, I am the only one in my immediate family without an advanced degree.

What I am suggesting is that it is time we acknowledge the value of working in the service industry as preparation for success in Corporate America. Customer service jobs require you to think on your feet, and adjust for the unpredictable. They teach respect and humility. They foster innovation and creative problem-solving in a fast-paced environment. They force an understanding of the value of human, face-to-face interactions. And, they demonstrate the value of hard work as part of the equation of success.

Yes, working at a greasy spoon or Marriott will purge the arrogance, and entitlement out of you like no other job. The Ivy League may help you learn how to think, but the service industry will teach you how to survive the quick-paced nature and thankless long-hours of an entry-level job.

I was surprised that it took me so long to recognize the value of a job in customer service. I spent my college years working a part-time job at Disneyland. Looking back, it was probably the best resume-builder I could have had. I learned how to embody my employer’s brand (The Disney Way), treat customers with respect,  understand the value of experience, and to respect my supervisors. It was all I needed for my first job in Corporate America.

The unemployment rates among college grads right now are at painfully high levels. If you’re interested in getting a job in Corporate America, I’d suggest a graduate course as a Barista at Starbucks, a bartender at Chevy’s, or a ride operator at Disneyland to improve your odds—and your chances of success once you land that job.

And if you’re an employer about to hire that Harvard grad—check to see that he got his real training at the Cambridge Marriott.

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