Student Grades and Getting Hired

On 11/13/2011, in Career, Finding a Job, by Jordan Wilson

When hiring staff, I do not put much emphasis on student grades as a predictor of job success.

Sure I pay attention to the outliers. Those in the top and bottom 5%. But even then I do not make a large connection with their potential employment capabilities.

Having dealt with managers from around the globe, almost all my peers share this view when assessing job candidates.

But if we care little about grade point average, what is important? 

If not Grades, What is the Key?

The critical thing for us is whether you are able to do the job. Both now and in the future.

This is a topic I discussed in The Key to Getting a Job Offer.

Can you quickly and competently learn tasks? Are you self-motivated with a strong work ethic? Will you able to take on increasing responsibilities and leadership roles? Is your work quality and demeanour professional? Can you handle tight deadlines and work stress? Do you have a track record of success?

Grades May Still Play a Role

Grades can play a part in answering these questions, especially if you are a recent graduate with no track record in the work world. So I am not advocating that you take it easy in school. Do your best and try to get strong marks. But above all, do not simply pass exams, learn the material and technical skills.

And of course there are still some employers out there that do focus on grades to differentiate applicants. I think these companies are making a huge mistake in their hiring practices, but what can I do? Plus, it may leave better candidates available for my firm.

Why the Diminished Importance of Grades?

Part of the reason is the nature of grades.

I look at some key points in Academics Versus Extracurricular Activities.

Grades are difficult to compare. Different teachers assess students differently so there may be variations even in the same schools. This is even more true across schools. Students take different course loads, have different out of school activities, etc. So it may not always be an apples to apples comparison with marks.

Grades are time sensitive. The longer you are out of school, the less technically sharp you are. I would rather see a job candidate with a 70% average in school who has engaged in continuing education in the 10 years since graduation than the 85% student who has done nothing since graduation.

Dishonesty in Academia

Another significant reason why grades have diminished in the eyes of hirers is due to the educational institutions themselves.

Every other week I read a story concerning grade inflation, cheating on exams by students, as well as by teachers. On both coasts. If you do a quick Google where you live, you may find stories closer to home.

There are professors who do not actually show up to teach, yet give students in the class A’s. And when the administration finds out what went on, they do not rescind the marks. Yes, one can rationalize almost anything in the academic world these days.

There are also teachers who do teach, but I wonder if they should. In parts of Canada, education students and actual teachers lack basic math skills themselves.

You would expect that the Education Faculties would want to rectify their teaching graduates not understanding basic math themselves. But you would be wrong.

Instead, a brilliant thinker (and depressingly, the dean of education at the University of Saskatchewan) takes a different point of view.

“Classes in elementary schools have complex human interactions that involve political, racial, economic and gender issues,” writes Cecilia Reynolds, the dean of education at the University of Saskatchewan. Her faculty is now considering whether to make the math course an elective – meaning that future teachers wouldn’t have to demonstrate any proficiency at all. She thinks math training should be more child-focused, “taking into consideration if that child is aboriginal, if that child has autism, whether that child ate a breakfast that morning.” Her own professional interests are in gender relations, equity and social justice.”

Just the sort of person I want educating future accountants, bankers, and business people. And she is the dean!

What kind of grades will a teacher that does not understand math give to students? And over time, those students will enter university and the work world with further diminished practical math skills. Ah, but they will have decent grades. And no doubt a better understanding of life’s “complex human interactions”.

I could cite many more examples of horror stories (and here is one more great teaching tale) but hopefully you get the point. If Ms. Reynolds is reading this, perhaps someone could help her work through the multisyllabic words.

Diminishing the Brand

It seems strange to me that by the above actions and lack of corrective action by school administrations, schools appear willing to degrade their brand as providers of quality education. But they do.

As a business person, all these stories make me question the qualifications of any graduate student.

As a result, I tend to ignore grades when assessing job candidates. And, as I stated above, many of my peers in management think the same way.

What You Should Do

We prefer to give candidates our own exams. With our own grading system and marks.

We ask specific technical questions and hypotheticals. Then we personally grade your comprehension, thought process, decision-making, and any other traits we may consider important for the job at hand.

It is a 100% exam and it is the only mark we care about.

So work hard in school to get good grades. But do not think that employers will put much emphasis on them when differentiating applicants.

Instead, study the job advertisement carefully. That is your syllabus for this course.

Make certain that you have learned the material and developed the requisite skills and experience. Then demonstrate to your potential employer that you will be able to do the job at a high level of competence.

If the company sees you as a competent, professional future employee, that will go much farther than whether you had 90% or 80% average grades in school.

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