Why GPA doesn’t matter in hiring (but your portfolio does)

That’s a strange title for a post from someone who works in higher ed, isn’t it? It’s an idea that made huge waves in 2013, when a Google veep made the comment that GPA is essentially useless when it comes to hiring. Here’s why:

Academic environments are artificial environments. People who succeed there are sort of finely trained, they’re conditioned to succeed in that environment….in college and grad school, you know the professor is looking for a specific answer.

You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems when there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where there is no obvious answer.

This idea was reinforced at PACON, Minneanalytics people analytics conference, in a presentation by Ben Taylor.  The presentation essentially drilled down to the fact that we use really bad information to make hiring decisions…i.e. what school the candidate attended, their GPA, things like that, when data shows that seemingly arbitrary factors are more indicative of a candidate’s intelligence and potential organizational fit. Email, for example, is four times more useful in hiring scenarios than GPA. Let’s be real…we’re all a little judgy when someone has a hotmail or yahoo account.

While I can’t speak on this from an HR perspective, I can offer a little insight from a higher ed perspective. Having worked for two institutions in flux about their missions and how to best serve students coming out of a recession, and one in which the government is becoming increasingly involved in the student outcomes and ability to get a job in the degree field for which they’ve borrowed A LOT of money, hireability is still not at the top of everyone’s list when it comes to making decisions about programs.  There tend to be two schools of thought on the subject: the old guard, who believe that academia is the pursuit of knowledge, and money shouldn’t be a factor/irrelevant to the loftier goals; and the newer, incoming people, who understand that students need to not only be proficient in their fields but be able to make a living from it as well.

I understand the necessity of GPA in the realistic sense: it’s a number that shows a student is able to study, apply thought and methodology in a measureable way and display competence. But how does it translate to the real world?

Like Google says, it really doesn’t. But a portfolio does.

The ability to speak intelligently about a process–methodology, group dynamics, software used, everything–as it relates to a tangible example is immeasurable. It allows you to demonstrate competence in the most literal of ways. The move by Google away from transcripts, GPA and random brainteasers to ‘behavioral interviewing,’ focusing on how you live, think and act in given situations, is more indicative of not only a person’s true ability but also of the likelihood of a good cultural and organizational fit:

The interesting thing about the behavioral interview is that when you ask somebody to speak to their own experience, and you drill into that, you get two kinds of information. One is you get to see how they actually interacted in a real-world situation, and the valuable ‘meta’ information you get about the candidate is a sense of what they consider to be difficult.

In higher ed, the closest we can come to helping students prepare for this type of experience is taking a more holistic look at the entire student lifecycle. Having a good GPA is one indicator of intelligence; showing impact and being able to articulate is even better, and a portfolio is the best tool to do that.

When hiring, what signifiers do you think are most important?

What do you think?

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