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Should GPA Matter in Hiring?

Friday, January 27th, 2017

Your GPA was your school’s way of measuring effort and aptitude, but many kids don’t realize that it will follow them all the way through their career when looking for a job. Two-thirds of all employers use GPA as a means of screening applicants. It seems like it’s a convenient way to make a quick determination about your abilities as an applicant, but is it really?

Many experts now are saying no. Read on to know more about why this practice is losing favor in the hiring community.

The Academic Construct

Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, said the following in an interview with The New York Times:

“I think academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment…One of the things we’ve seen from all our data crunching is that GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless.”

Basically, in school the teacher holds a book full of answers and is training you to learn and retain those specific answers. Yes, learning and retaining is a good skill, one that most employers want, but there are many other skills that aren’t taught well in school. Some of these skills are essential to being a good employee. Relying too heavily on test scores or GPA is like relying on the fact that a person is fit or knows how to play the violin. It’s nice, but not inclusive enough.

Students are trained to give specific answers, but in the real world, “it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer.” Bock says. “You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.”

Bock claims that not only are GPAs useless, but that test scores, interviews, and even resumes are poor indicators of who is the right candidate for the job. Google no longer asks for GPAs or test scores, unless a candidate is a very recent college graduate.

Isolating the Facts

When assessing GPA, many employers don’t take into account that some schools have a lower average GPA overall. So, a school whose students averaged 3.4 probably has harder curriculum than the school with an average of 3.9. A student that achieves a 4.0 at the second school probably didn’t work as hard as the student who achieves a 4.0 at the first. Employers tend to make this mistake called the fundamental attribution error, the tendency to evaluate without taking situational factors into account. Samuel Swift of University of California, Berkeley and his team of researchers explained,

“It is easier to achieve high grades at schools where higher grades are the norm. It would be a mistake to neglect situational effects on performance, but that is what our data suggest that even experts and professionals tend to do.”

Taking GPA out of context is a very common error, and it can lead to hiring the wrong people and missing the right ones.

Grade Inflation

A report by the Teachers College Record says that an A average has become much more common than it used to be. Over the past 70 years the percentage of grades that are A’s has increased by 28 percent. This grade inflation implies that A’s are now easier to get and are not always indicative of the most elite students in a school.

It seems like a glowing report to see that a candidate got straight A’s in school. It’s definitely not a bad thing, but again, relying on that information alone is not the best way to determine a candidate’s eligibility.

Schools and Subjects Matter

Although the employer should always be aware of a school’s accreditation (the verification process that universities must go through to be known as legitimate) some schools impose tougher standards on themselves than others. This tiered system makes it possible for people who might not have the best grades to attain a higher degree, but it also means that some programs are harder than others. The school in question has to be considered.

Also, there are dozens, even hundreds of different degree programs at every school. Some degrees are harder intellectually than others, even within the same university. A fine arts degree would be more challenging creatively; a mechanical engineering degree would be more intellectual. Since grades are usually about intellect, this fact matters.

Don’t Totally Ignore GPA

A high GPA alone isn’t enough to determine eligibility, but it does mean something. People with good grades are generally hard working, disciplined, and have the ability to retain information well. These aren’t bad qualities in an employee. So, it should take some place in the decision of whether to hire or not.

However, a high GPA says nothing as to one’s creativity, adaptability, good judgement, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, high initiative, being a good team player, not to mention a whole host of other specialized skills you may be looking for.

There Are Better Indicators

Instead of GPA, focus on getting to know potential employees through the following ways:

Bock says that the only thing that works are behavioral interviews. Have a set test with certain parameters for every candidate so that the interviewer isn’t just winging it. This is the only way to get consistent and accurate results.

Study applicants’ online presence. Social media is a great way to investigate the candidate in his or her natural habitat. What are they like at home? With friends? How socially aware are they?

Look for successful and relevant experience, including internship, volunteer, and work experiences that demonstrated candidates’ abilities in action. Hands-on experience like this is one of the best ways to predict one’s potential and performance at your company.

A portfolio, when applicable, is great for showcasing samples of a candidate’s best work can give great insight into one’s abilities. This is a great method when hiring for design or other visually creative roles.

Terese Corey Blanck, founder of College to Career Inc., said that by placing too much emphasis on GPA, employers are missing out on “a lot of diamonds in the rough… Hiring managers who use GPAs as a major success predictor do not understand the full capacity of human potential,” Ms. Corey Blanck said. “You can have all these wonderful skills, but your GPA isn’t high enough so the door might not be open for you.”

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