After uni: When grades are no longer that important

Copyright: Gratisography
Grades: Worthless for the hiring procedure? Copyright: Gratisography

A quick look at the list of published grades hanging up in your course department… Do they meet your expectations? Have you messed up your grade point average? The importance of your grades and your own personal grade point average are the be all and end all of a university education – ultimately because they are easy to quantify and allow a direct comparison. 

But what happens after you’ve finished your degree?

The severe shortage of skilled professionals in Germany must seem like a blessing to anyone applying for a job. After all, companies are fighting over skilled professionals and actually writing a resume is almost a thing of the past. At least that’s how recent graduates seem to think it works – but the reality is quite different. Skilled professionals, particularly in the academic sector, are in high demand – but despite this, many still don’t have work.

As Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes in his poem:

“Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink”

A halfway decent degree in a sensible subject, a resume without any spelling mistakes and a resume photo of you in a suit or something smart is a guarantee for success, isn’t it? Most job applicants get a sharp reality check at their first job interview, or after they send out their first resumes to suitable companies. You have good grades from university but still no one responds to your resume, or you receive a rejection letter, or you might get invited to an interview but you still don’t get the job. This might come as a big surprise, as big as the misjudgment of the application process. Questions and doubts begin to grow: Aren’t grades important? Doesn’t all that knowledge accumulated during your degree course matter at all? Even though you cited 5 extra sources and finished your degree within the standard study period? So what is missing in the model of the perfect student? We live in a professional society that pays little attention to many skills. Probably mostly because they are so difficult to quantify: empathy, the ability to fit in, creativity, and general social skills – to name but a few.

Copyright: Inspired by "The Skill Gap"
Copyright: Inspired by “The Skill Gap”

In the Bloomberg Recruiter Report, 1320 recruiters from 600 companies were asked what skills they are looking for and why they are so hard to find. This mainly focuses on those who have the master’s degree Master of Business Administration (MBA), but an emerging pattern can nevertheless be observed.

Are grades even important?

To claim that grades are unimportant would not only be absurd, it would also rob every sophisticated argument of its grounds for discussion. Fundamentally, it is important to take into consideration who is being asked – Google or Daimler? Even though all companies nowadays say that they are “innovative” and that they think outside the box, it is really just a few that truly have these characteristics. Above all, these aspects are often not reflected by the company’s choice of applicants.

In an interview with the New York Times Laszlo Bock, Chief of Human at Google, said that grades are “worthless as a criterion for hiring”. In April. Bock repeated this argument at the People Analytics Conference:
“We did a bunch of analysis and found that grades are a little predictive your first two years, but for the rest of your career don’t matter at all.” And Google should know, as a company that has access to enormous amounts of data. It is also worth mentioning that every year over 2 million applicants apply for the coveted positions at the technology giant.
The consulting and advisory company Ernst & Young also want to give applicants without a degree, or those with just an average grade, a chance. An impressive step, when one considers how elite the consultancy branch is.

And that’s why they interview applicants!

A job interview is designed to determine whether you suit the company, its company culture and its team. Why else would the employer be so interested in what you do outside of university? And no I’m not talking about the much-used example of playing in a football club. That argument hardly stands up to scrutiny when one considers that lone wolves are needed on the football pitch in order to score a goal without necessarily playing as part of the team.
Clever and more difficult questions are also asked, and your university education won’t prepare you for these:

„Which do you think has more advertising potential in Boston, a flower shop or a funeral home“ – Google 2015

Companies are interested in your grades, and these are a hurdle and a fictitious gauge, as well as a basic requirement for getting that interview for your dream job.

During the interview, the company wants to determine whether you are a team player or not and whether your personality, combined with your professional skills, suits the job description. Nowadays, every job is interdisciplinary and demands much more than simply being experienced in your field of work. Most students realize this but still fail to work on important aspects of their personality. Does that sound a bit too much like a motivational coach and “go for it” mentality? Maybe, but nevertheless, it is important not to loose sight of the fact that any personal deficits might catch you out later in working life.

I don’t want to sound dramatic, but bad or no interpersonal communication skills have a significant negative impact on your chances of moving up the career ladder. But who wants to hear that? Working on yourself to improve your personality isn’t exactly a high priority. And most people are convinced that this skill comes naturally to them, which often isn’t the case. We have all experienced times at university, where fellow students or “friends” have been unwilling to share course documents, past papers or study notes.
These people are light years away from being team players, and have succumbed to the illusion that this will change later in their working lives. But by then, it’s no longer about final grades or competing against fellow students, but about a promotion or getting a job as a team leader. This “elbow mentality” can of course be useful, but it is good to bear in mind that it can also go against you because it weakens trust and team spirit.

Copyright: Helloquence by Stocksnap
Human relations: Much more important than you think. Copyright: Helloquence by Stocksnap

But this is not a one-sided problem

These problems don’t only create difficulties for the applicant. In the end, companies also miss out on brilliant and passionate employees without enormous development potential – which, in my opinion, all of us have to offer. But on the other hand, lots of people miss out on the chance of securing their dream job because they find interpersonal communication difficult. But you are only able to change things about yourself, and not about your employer; that is, the skills that you bring as an applicant.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying, I’m not trying to encourage anyone to go and drink those two leftover bottles of gin from the last house party instead of studying. A completed degree and a good grade are excellent corner stones for getting a job. As Maggie Stilwell from Ernst & Young says of the new company philosophy: “Academic qualifications will remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole.” In the end, your grades are you entrance ticket to the world of work and also an indicator of how well you can work to solve complex problems and if you can apply this knowledge. Otherwise, applicants would probably be given the job without having to attend a job interview, just by being able to convince the human resources team with a few well-formulated sentences in their job application.

Don’t leave it too late

Of course, I am not trying to generalize and apply this to all branches and to every job offer. The different braches and industries are just too varied and the various companies all offer different opportunities. I also don’t want to give the impression that bad or terrible grades coupled with excellent social skills create the perfect applicant.

I would like to give you an incentive to work on yourselves outside of the university context and to concentrate not only on what is directly in front of you, but also on the horizon. And this doesn’t just apply to subject-related topics, but also to your own personal competencies and skills. Even though the examples of Google and Ernst & Young, used above, are just the beginning and are generally considered to be relatively experimental, it is nevertheless worth sparing a thought for what will happen if this new approach to recruitment becomes the norm and that a wealth of different doors might open for you if you adapt your approach accordingly.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *