SOARES: At home in the workplace

Are you firm-minded and not warmhearted? Not an applauder, but a dissector? An analyzer and not a sympathizer, and more of a judge than a peacemaker? If so, you may be on your way to a summer internship with a multibillion-dollar asset management firm. Good luck.

I didn’t know much about Bridgewater when I submitted my application. Dubbed the world’s “largest and indisputably weirdest hedge fund” by New York Magazine, Bridgewater is a quirky place. Its employees function in a wholly horizontal environment and abide by a principle of radical openness. No Bridgewater employee — from a first-year junior associate to C-level career executive — is exempt from a colleague’s criticism.

Because of its wacky corporate culture, the hedge fund has become fodder for writers. In a 2011 feature, The New Yorker described Bridgewater’s CEO and founder Ray Dalio as someone who “likes to go places and kill things.” But despite the firm’s idiosyncrasies, there’s a method to its madness: In 2010, its main fund made returns on the order of 38 percent, a figure which sounds terribly impressive even if I have no idea what it actually means.

Given the previous sentence, it should come as no surprise that Bridgewater declined my candidacy for its summer program. But my inanity, I think, explains only half of my application’s failure. The firm ascribes its success to its unique culture, so it recruits only individuals who would feel at home in its Serengeti-like environment. All candidates take a Myer-Briggs personality test, which weeds out softies like me.

Two weeks after my rejection (delivered in four sentences, and not even complex ones), another email from Bridgewater appeared in my inbox. It asked me to evaluate its recruitment process, since, “As you know, at Bridgewater we consistently use feedback as means for improvement!”

I considered crafting a scathing response that would expose my rejection’s injustices: the firm’s blindness to my qualifications, the needless hostility of its interviewers, the insufficiency of its application process to accurately measure my potential as an employee. Radical openness? Sign me up.

None of those indictments, however, would be true. I am, after all, as qualified to work in finance as the goldfish in Bernie Madoff’s cell, and Jon and Pete, my interviewers, were actually quite pleasant people. But most importantly, Bridgewater knew best whether I’d be happy at their firm.

Collectively, Yalies rank among the brightest, most qualified worker-wannabes in the country. Getting a job, I think, is not so much a measure of our aptness as human beings but a matter of finding a home in the workplace. Qualifications are important, sure: Even the most softhearted hedge fund wouldn’t hire me in its right mind. But fit is important, too: 40 hours per week (or 84, for the financially inclined) is no small measure of time.

Yet too often in job hunting we tie our success to an overarching ideal of self-worth. Résumés cease to be career placement tools and become highlight reels of our lives. We take interview invitations as validations of our whole selves, while rejection emails bear the weight of a marriage proposal refused. We lose sight of the fact that, really, it’s nothing personal.

Part of the blame belongs to prospective employers. Increasingly, firms market themselves not as mere workplaces but as communities of people with hobbies and personal lives. Annie from McKinsey is an avid runner, while Candy at Morgan Stanley is a veteran dragon boat paddler. These firms hire people whole, and we feel wholly rejected when they toss our résumés into a trash can.

But we’re part of the problem, too. Yalies are a particularly competitive bunch, and nothing delights us more than an acceptance letter (though an open carrel at Bass is a close second). For us, life is a parade of applications, and acceptance is an indicator of self-worth.

If we don’t look past that binary system of acceptances and rejections, we’ll miss an important fact: Bridgewater had it right. In the end, I’m more warmhearted than firm-minded.

Teo Soares is a junior in Silliman College. Contact him at teo.soares@yale.edu.

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