Actually, a Candidate’s College and GPA Do Matter.  

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Jul 15, 2020

Did you go to college? If so, why? To learn about the world? To improve your skills? To muck around for a few years? Whatever the reason, you likely spent a significant chunk of your time, energy, and (notoriously) money on making yourself into a bona fide graduate.

Then you hit the job market and perhaps realized or assumed that recruiters were judging you by the name of your university and your GPA. Then you became a recruiting professional and you likely did — and maybe you still are doing — the same thing.

Considering the volume of CVs that come across your desk, it’s understandable why you might want to screen based on such criteria. The problem is, it fails to reveal the bigger picture.

Colleges and Grades Don’t Matter…

OK, perhaps you don’t rely heavily on such information. Indeed, many recruiters increasingly say that they don’t care about candidates’ grades or where they got their degrees (so long as they’ve got a degree). 

However, others do look closely at such small pieces of the puzzle. They rely on their own heuristics and biases based on gut feelings that have everything to do with their own subjective opinions but nothing to do with reality. For such an expensive piece of paper, a university degree (as well as GPA) is a downright awful predictor of performance.

So, if a degree and grades aren’t reliable for predicting candidate success, then we should finally toss them aside as relics of a more hierarchical era that served only to box people in and judge them for who they were(n’t), right? 

Not so fast.

…Unless They Matter the Right Way

With today’s growing amount of data-based analytical solutions, we have to stop and ask ourselves whether we are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Rather than hop on the trend to ignore university and grades, we can instead use emerging technology to put them into context as part of the hiring process.

By itself, a grade or a college tells you nothing because you don’t know the following:

  • How the student performed against peers. What good is an “A” if most classmates get one? Where’s the context for the student who is one of the few to get an “A” in a different class? 
  • University standards and grading cultures. Colleges have different admissions standards, and they all grade differently.
  • How the institution’s graduates generally stack up in the job market. Everyone knows academic success alone does not necessarily predict success afterward. So you’d want to know what kind of work graduates find and where. 

While no recruiter can be expected to know these things for any university, let alone multiple ones, technology can step in to do this quickly and objectively. Plus, the ability to incorporate such context can be a long-term performance indicator. That’s because you’d be able to look at the candidate’s past performance using this context over the course of multiple years while at school.

All of which is to say that college and grades do matter — but only in the right context. It’s time for us to revisit how we evaluate academic achievement to develop a fair and objective recruitment strategy that doesn’t overlook candidates based on crude and arbitrary measurements. Technology is already allowing us to shed many other old practices and prejudices — it’s time to apply it to academics, as well.

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