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Are good grades enough to land a great job?

Posted by mandyf on March 7, 2012

Are good grades enough to land a great job? Most graduates and many hiring managers will tell you that they aren’t. Extracurricular activities and special achievements and skills that aren’t always translated into a numerical value matter as well. The question is how much? Is there a magical formula that ensures the greatest odds of landing a job? How much do grades even matter? It isn’t uncommon these days for great tech jobs to go to dropouts or kids just a year or so removed from high school without an hour of college on their resume. It brings to mind a story a recruiter with a Fortune 500 company, IBM, shared with me about a recruiting trip he made where there were over 70 applicants for 2 positions.

As a courtesy to the University, the top handful of applicants that attended their interview received a followup interview to help them hone their skills and learn what they did right and wrong. By that time, the people awarded a position were already known to any of the applicants that cared to ask – you can bet the two students that landed a job let everyone know about it anyway.

The applicant was blown away he didn’t get the job. he was a 3.8 student that had a nearly impeccable record academically and personally. He hadn’t been in trouble with the school or law once – not even a parking ticket. He knew one of the students that did get a job only carried about a 2.8 GPA, and he felt he was owed an explanation as to how someone he felt was academically inferior could be chosen ahead of him. This, paraphrased, is the exchange between the recruiter and the top applicant to not get a job.

The recruiter looked at him long and hard and posed a series of questions.

R: You are at school on a scholarship, correct?

A: Yes, a full scholarship.

R: Your extracurricular activities seem to be limited to..nothing. Is that correct?

A: Yes, but I needed to focus on my grades as much as possible, there was no time for anything else.

Q: If, in some freak accident, you were without computers for a week, could you still perform your job as a cost accountant effectively using nothing but ledgers and a pencil.

A: That would never happen, but if it did, I could get by I think.

The recruiter had heard enough at that point. He told the applicant that while his grades were impressive, they aren’t enough. He wasn’t just looking for grades, he was looking for well rounded applicants. One applicant chosen ahead of him had slightly better grades and also competed in a varsity sport at the division one level. He had passed on the Greek system but participated in a few campus groups and had a history of doing so. The other applicant, with a lower GPA, was a different story.

The recruiter said, you look at this person and see a a GPA you see as being indicative of unskilled – or at least not as skilled as you. What I know, that you likely don’t, is that woman is a veteran. She put herself through college bit by bit. She holds down a full-time job, has a family, practical experience and she still finds time to have a life outside of all of that participating in student government. I see someone that is hungry for a job and will be a great asset if given the chance. I see someone that wants a better future bad enough to make the time to do it now, not later or some day that never comes.

When I look at you, I see a student. I see someone who has done nothing but go to school for the past 16 years. You are on a full scholarship, you don’t hold a part-time job even. In the summer, you go to school. The academic world is the extent of your world. There is no excuse to have not done a good job as a student because it is your only job. I am sure you will do a great job somewhere, I just don’t think it is meant to be with us.

Certainly not all recruiters, hiring managers or companies would agree with that assessment, but for this one recruiter of over 35 years with his company, that was how things worked. He also cautioned against trying to bluff your way through extracurricular activities with what he called “resume fluff” that was something marginally performed for nothing more than the sake of saying you signed up and went to a few pizza parties. The one thing I took from this is that companies do care about more than the grades. GPA’s don’t show up to work everyday – people do. When a company makes an investment in employees, they want to know that investment is going to pay dividends.  That is achieved with people that adapt and overcome – not an impressive set of test scores.

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3 Responses to “Are good grades enough to land a great job?”

  1. Randy Duckworth said

    Very valuable information! Anyone applying for a position will definitely find value in this! Good job, my friend!

  2. mandyf said

    Thank you randy. It was one of those interactions in life where it seemed like the story was too good not to share. Grades are fine, but like he said – test scores don’t come to work every morning – people do! We are all more than test scores and algorithms on a paper. I think we tend to get wrapped up in life and forget that sometimes.

  3. I’m the biggest advocate for formal education but have believed what you’ve brought up in this story throughout my life. I think education is necessary but not sufficient on its own. Good work.

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