When Toby Alfred was applying to college, her mother told her, “You figure out the best place you can get into and I’ll figure out a way to pay for it.” In retrospect, she says, that was “a tremendous gift.” Neither of her parents were college graduates; her mother was a bookkeeper; her father worked as an office manager and money was tight. Alfred got a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon and took out loans to pay for her MBA from the University of Chicago.
These credentials served her well. Today she is a high-level executive at Progressive Direct Insurance in Cleveland, where more than 6,000 people report to her and she reports directly to the company president. From the experience of recruiting others and being hired herself, she’s convinced that “educational pedigree is a foot in the door,” she says. “It’s a reflection of how résumés get sorted in a competitive marketplace.”