Your Education Can Be a Brand Name
Details like where you've worked in the past and what schools you've attended can create a different sort of bias in the mind of a hiring manager. If, for instance, one candidate went to Harvard while another went to a state school, the manager reviewing both resumes will give preferential treatment to the Harvard alum.
In a NYMag article, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, a psychology researcher at Columbia University who specializes in intergroup and diversity issues, explained that sort of information sets recruiters up to subconciously confirm their own assumptions:
"Once you assume that someone’s smart, a whole other set of things goes on," said Purdie-Vaughns. "One of the things that happens is that you tend to evaluate whatever they wrote in terms of looking for positives instead of looking for negatives. So the person who went to the small state school, you’re looking for mistakes, you’re looking for typos, you’re looking for when they are saying something that doesn’t make any sense, and that confirms your bias that they’re not what you’re looking for. The Harvard applicant, you’re looking for the positive: all of the parts of their cover letter that are coming together for you, and you actually tend to avoid looking at things like the typos or the mistakes. And when you do see things that are either mistakes or errors or red flags, you interpret them differently. You interpret them as, 'Oh, this person must have been really tired putting together this cover letter because they work so hard.' Or, 'Oh, they must be really busy.’” In evaluating the sample of the applicant who went to the small state school, on the other hand, "you tend to interpret mistakes as diagnostic of their ability."
Having a work history that includes well-known companies can create the same sort of confirmation bias in the minds of potential employers. But here’s the reality: the only conclusion that a recruiter should take from seeing organizations like Harvard University or Google on a resume is that an applicant happened to spend time in those organizations. There are people who study at or work for the top institutions in the world without particularly distinguishing themselves, just as there are incredible geniuses who graduate from state schools or who work at small companies. Unfortunately, that reality doesn't improve your odds of landing an interview if you're up against other candidates with name brands on their resumes.