Planet Money
5:38 pm
Wed February 22, 2012

Why Are Harvard Grads in the Mailroom?

Originally published on Wed February 22, 2012 10:11 am

Below is an excerpt from Adam Davidson's latest New York Times Magazine column, "Why Are Harvard Graduates In The Mailroom?" Read all of Davidson's Times Magazine columns here.

Hollywood is, in some ways, the model lottery industry. For most companies in the business, it doesn't make economic sense to, as Google does, put promising young applicants through a series of tests and then hire only the small number who pass. Instead, it's cheaper for talent agencies and studios to hire a lot of young workers and run them through a few years of low-paying drudgery....While far from perfect, this strategy has done a pretty decent job of pushing those with real promise to the top. Barry Diller and David Geffen each started his career in the William Morris mailroom...

Hollywood is merely the most glamorous industry that puts new entrants — whether they're in the mailroom, picking up dry cleaning for a studio head or waiting on tables between open-call auditions — through a lottery system. Even glamour-free industries offer economic-lottery systems. Young, ambitious accountants who toil away at a Big Four firm may have modest expectations of glory, but they'll be millionaires if they make partner. The same goes at law firms, ad agencies and consulting firms. ...

This system is unfair and arbitrary and often takes advantage of many people who don't really have a shot at the big prize. But it is far preferable to the parts of our economy where there are no big prizes waiting.

Read the full column here.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.