One of billionaire investor and venture capitalist Peter Thiele’s major ideas is that “competition is for losers.” For example, he talks about how even though Google probably creates less value for humankind than the major airlines; the Silicon Valley Company is able to capture significantly more of the revenue. Why? The airline industry has incredible amounts of competition and so each firm tries to one up the others, leading to a spiraling effect where margins are incredibly slim. On the other hand, a monopoly in online search, Google is consistently able to cash out huge profits.
Of course, in the article and in his book Zero to One, Peter Thiele is talking about building businesses and starting up. But the same concept applies to students and job seekers: competition really is for losers.
Let’s take the internship search for example. Especially during the spring semester, it seems like every single college student is on the lookout for internships.
After all, you want to be one of the “lucky few” chosen by a random recruiter to be part of a class of interns who works at Goldman or McKinsey or Google over the summer. And so you dress up in suits for on campus recruiting, you polish up your resume trying to impress someone you don’t even know, you write 10 cover letters trying to prove why you’re good enough to make Excel spreadsheets all day, you put your head down and relearn some accounting rules for the investment banking interviews or data structures for the coding interview, you try to summarize your life story in a single “tell me about yourself” question. You live in stress for a month while you wait for what seems to be your short term destiny, and then when you don’t get an offer, you question whether you’re just not good enough.
Or if you do get an offer, you’re just an “intern” at the very bottom of the food chain.
What exactly is the point? To do something that you really don’t want to do, just for the sake of saying you did it?
The real goal of an internship is to gain practical experience in a non-contrived, real-world work environment. Sure, the name brand might carry a lot of weight and connections at major firms help. But what’s the point of competing against thousands of people to get that experience? As Face book COO Sheryl Sandberg argues in her book Lean In, corporate America “is not a corporate ladder. It’s a jungle gym.”
Indeed, it seems like making it to the top (or even “getting in” as an intern) can be significantly easier via the non-traditional path.
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