Listening to this cast the main thing that struck me was how it is pretty much opposite to the advice I received when I was at university. I'm not saying totally opposite but certainly the focus was different.

The cast could, as I understand it, be summed up as "The number 1 priority is to come out with a good GPA/award, everything else is secondary."

When I was at uni, 1989-93, the message was quite different. I wasn't told "Don't worry about your grades, they don't mean anything" but grades were not represented as the #1 priority. The message was much more "So long as you at least get a degree that's fine, it's the extra curricular activities that employers are more interested in." This was the message I got from my 6th form (6th form is an optional end of secondary/pre-tertiary education where you study A-Levels, pretty much a requirement for getting into university) college careers service, my university careers service, the employment services office (Job Centre), the media and employers I spoke to. Even my bank sent me a booklet saying "Congratulations on getting into university, here's what we look for in our graduate recruits..." and giving similar advice. The view was that there are loads of graduates coming out each year with the same or similar degree as you, you need lots of good extra-curriculars to demonstrate your unique selling point, the thing that makes you different from all the rest. Indeed it was only the 'crusty old academics' (normally derided for giving poor careers advice) who seemed worried about grades.

I graduated with a II:ii (aka a 'Desmond') in Biochemistry from University of Keele in 1993 (along with subsidiary degrees in Computer Science, Engineering Math and Economics). I don't know that I've ever been ruled out of a job on the basis of the class of my degree. I do know that I've very rarely been asked what class degree I got, I know a lot of people who graduated around the same time as me with II:i and Firsts but had as much or more trouble than me finding graduate jobs and employers seemed much more interested in the fact that I'd been Treasurer of the Scottish society for a year, a member of the Constitutional Committee for 3 years and had raised over £100,000 pounds for charity over 3 years as a very active member of the RAG committee than what my grades were.

Presumably things have changed in the intervening 15 years.


bug_girl's picture

I agree. As long as you have a 3.0, the cutoff in the US for most internships, you're fine.
I also disagree that students will be asked about their grades in an interview--none of the recruiters I work with waste time talking about grades. They're doing informational interviews, and look for behaviors.

They want to see that they are getting a fully rounded person.
A kid with a 4.0 and nothing else on his resume is not going to get far, because he won't have the social skills/leadership needed to be successful.

Also, I worry about the message of "get very high grades" at a time when nearly all of my students are working--some full time--to stay in school.

We (hiring types) need to recognize the reality that even some very smart kids' grades will suffer under that work schedule.

galway's picture

Commonly heard catch-phrase at my University - "Ds get degrees".

I think that it is an oversight for hiring managers to ignore GPA in an interview. Like the cast said, it is the first major metric that the candidate has had to measure up to; why not take performance into account?

bug_girl's picture

Oh, they take GPA into account. They screen everyone by GPA, so it's a non-issue when the interviews start.

I think I figured out why this podcast bothered me so much--the phrase "good grades".

To nearly all my (US) students, 3.0 is *not* a good grade. They are obsessed with getting perfect grades, often to the point where they completely neglect all the other parts of school that help them develop as an adult individual (clubs, jobs, internships, etc.)

I would have phrased the BLUF of the grades cast as
"A 3.0 is your admission ticket. You absolutely must have a 3.0 or better to get on the after-college employment ride. But, you also must have used your time in college to build your resume by working and getting leadership experience. It's finding the balance between the two that's the key."

Too many of my students lack balance, and skip internships or career-related employment in favor of extra specializations on their diploma, or exceptional grades rather than "good" grades.

The university I am affiliated with has completely changed the way we award graduation honors. We used to have a GPA cutoff (3.8), but we now have gone to a percentage (top 5%). This was because over 30% of our students were graduating with honors!!

I don't think it's grade inflation--if anything, the courses are harder and cover more content. IMO we've created a generation of super test-takers by testing the cr@p out of these kids from kindergarten to high school with standardized tests.

That doesn't teach them critical thinking, or good judgment, or independence.
A lot of them really have trouble with ambiguity, if instructions are not very clear. This makes them hard to manage as new graduate hires.

jhack's picture

Interesting and thought-provoking cast. M&M weren't suggesting only grades matter. They in fact pointed out the value of extracurriculars.

All other things being equal, however, (and they never are...), good grades are better. And good grades mean a 3.0 or higher in the US. That's all. If you're getting good grades, you should also be writing for the newspaper, or playing ball, or leading some campus group or another... Good grades PLUS the extracurriculars: that's what recruiters are really looking for.

M&M are right: school success is measured by grades. If you don't know that, or don't act on it, you put yourself at a disadvantage. While the podcast's focus was business, grades are even more relevant if you want an academic career. Duh!

And unless you've somehow talked your way into a college whose rigor is truly beyond you, good grades are possible. It's not nearly as hard as the working world! My experience was that going to class, reading the assigned texts, doing the homework, writing the papers, and reviewing materials before tests got me above that 3.0 level. One can still enjoy live music on Friday night if one actually does the work through the week.

Many of the executives I've known weren't great students, and many didn't go to "top" schools. Talent will show over time. So it's a matter of whether you want to get a leg up early, or need to make up lost ground...

The notion of college as an investment with measurable ROI shocked me when I first heard it. Education is a goal in itself! Self fulfillment! I've since come around to see the ROI, and yet I'm really glad I went for breadth as an undergrad and depth in grad school.

Final word from Mark Twain: "Never let your schooling interfere with your education."

John Hack

Osqhollu's picture

Perhaps this is a podcast more focused on the USA. Cultural differences do exists.

In all my professional live in France, I've been asked ONCE my engineer school rank. And this was from a weird recruiter... I didn't even know what my rank was. Didn't care and still don't.

The proof of success is not the grades: it's getting in a famous engineer school. That means 2 years of hard work, a national competition ('concours') with 10x more candidates than student positions, and another round of selection.

Of course engineering schools can learn calculus, structural analysis and such, with grades. That's easy and all schools can do it.

What makes a great school is not only the courses, it's more the associative live and all that can be learn from it. Students unions. Real world experience. The grades? Well... you were good enough to get in, just work and it's ok.

I would be very wary of a candidate that would give me a rank. I would expect him to stress on associations and projects he was in. What he learn there... what initiative he had, and so on.

To finish, you know what they call the guy who graduates last in his class at medical school?
Doctor. :-)

Same for engineers!

rthibode's picture

I was really surprised to hear that employers care at all about grades. I'm wondering if it applies in Canada.

I work at a university, and I've often heard (and probably repeated) the advice that once you graduate, employers will never know what grades you earned. Sure, it's nice to earn some decent grades so you can get letters of reference from profs, but that's not essential if you have other strong references and aren't going to grad school.

Do any Canadian hiring managers or HR people have experience with this? If it's true, it's good news for me personally -- learning stuff from books is what I'm best at. But I would feel mortified to brag about my GPA on my resume unless I know everyone else here in Canada is doing it too.


scm2423's picture
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I am in Canada and have never been asked about my grades or even asked to prove I have a degree.  In fact, I left university short two courses, I mentioned this in the interview for my first position, just to be honest.  They didn't care! 

The only time I have been asked for transcripts was when I was registering for a company sponsored post-secondary education.


I still think it is important to get good grades, but I don't think it is a deal breaker.  It may be something to help you stand out from the rest, but it is a guarantee.  When I hire people I don't ask for transcripts, if I get them i review them but only out of interest.  If it was full of low grades I might pass on the person, but if they interviewed well and seemed to have the skills and knowledge required I would still look at them.