Academic grades: How much do they matter?

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Do academic success and good grades help in career growth in the long run? Or is competency the last word when it comes to the professional world? The fact is that people with good academic grades may not be able to deal with the practicalities of a professional work environment, because the skills required to shine in academics are absolutely different from those required to grow in a career. To gather good grades against the same age / peer group with similar set of experiences is different from competing in an atmosphere full of people with different experiences and skills, belonging to different age groups. Real challenges are faced with colleagues and not classmates.

While hiring from the campus, we need to have a blended approach. Grades may not be the determinant of competencies, but grades since the first semester help understand the consistency of a person, which is an important criterion.

Praveer Priyadarshi, HR leader

However, in India, the role of grades becomes significant when it comes to campus hiring. As Ashish Pinto, senior HR professional, explains, “Academic grades act as the basic parameter to select twenty candidates out of a batch of 200 students, while hiring from the campus. In fact, which students are to be interviewed by which company, is finalised by the colleges on the basis of grades acquired.”

On the contrary, agreeing to the fact that grades do not justify competence, Pinto adds, “After the first round of filtration is done, what we look for is competence. Employers may use different methodologies to check whether the candidate fits the functional area or not. In the interview round, the questions become analytical. The interviewer may ask questions based on situations, which an employee may come across but not a student. However, while interviewing a candidate passing out of a reputed institution, employers expect answers that are relevant to some extent.”

Therefore, grades are important in judging the competencies of a candidate during campus hiring. However, in the process of lateral hiring, priority is given to the background of a person as a whole.

Unmesh Pawar, partner, KPMG

Comparing the situation with that of the lateral hiring process, Pinto enumerates, “During lateral hiring, academic track record may play a role only when a number of similar resumes are received. In that case, the academic history becomes a point of judgment to figure out the probable grooming that a person may have gone through or require. However, priority is always given to the competent people. It is important for the employers to know whether a person will be able to handle the role that he/she is being hired for, and that competency comes from experience and some other factors, such as leadership skills, communication skills and quick learning ability among others.”

However, some experts believe that judgment should be on the basis of a blended approach. The balance between academics and handling of job function helps employers judge the consistency of a person. Praveer Priyadarshi, former chief people officer, Jindal Steel and Power, explains, “While hiring from the campus, we need to have a blended approach. Grades may not be the determinant of competencies, but grades since the first semester help understand the consistency of a person, which is an important criterion. However, only good grades with no skills are no good”.

While explaining the process of campus hiring, Priyadarshi further adds, “Grades are just the preliminary parameters for filtering the desired candidates from a batch. We also give them aptitude tests to judge the other required skills. Although academic performance is judged when multiple CVs are scanned in the lateral hiring process, the relevant skills are paid more importance. We see the experience that a person may bring to the table, along with an understanding of the job function and the ability to handle the same.”

Even though the deciding factor for the long run is the competency of a person, when it comes to campus hiring, the role of grades cannot be ignored. What can be concluded from the statements of Pinto and Priyadarshi is that grades help employers judge the intellect of a person and decide to what extent the interviewee can be driven, to bring out the keys of the job function. However, this is only the preliminary stage of the hiring process. For the subsequent rounds, the employers rely on different methodologies to judge the competencies of a candidate, as required to meet the demands of the function that he/she is being hired for. This shows that even reputed institutions are successful only when they can produce students with the right calibre needed for specific functions.

In fact, there have been instances of college dropouts ending up being big players, such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Paul Allen and many others. Commenting on this, Unmesh Pawar, partner, head – people performance and culture, KPMG, expresses a contradictory view. According to Pawar, “Many dropouts make it big at the end, but they choose to drop out to follow their passion. So, that is yet another aspect of judgment.”

Academic grades act as the basic parameter to select twenty candidates out of a batch of 200 students, while hiring from the campus. After this first round of filtration, what we look for is competence.

Ashish Pinto, senior HR professional 

Stressing on the importance of grades, he further adds, “There are various ways of looking at the process. It is just not about cut-off marks. An academic session comprises several assignments, projects, case studies, and so on. The grades acquired by a student do not only reflect his theoretical knowledge, but also some of his management skills. Therefore, grades are important in judging the competencies of a candidate during campus hiring. However, in the process of lateral hiring, priority is given to the background of a person as a whole. Employers believe that A-listed alumni possess good grooming. However, there has been a remarkable shift in focus of recruiters, in terms of the choice of campus to hire from. A-listed employers are now opening up their campus hiring cells at institutions of various grades”

Clearly, recruiters have varying views and opinions on the role of grades in campus hiring, but the statements of our experts also support the fact that what matters in the long run is competency. Therefore, ideally, a blend of the two may be a catalyst for future growth.

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