I frequently need to screen resumes and lead interviews for my company. The majority of the candidates I meet are entry-level, and almost all have spent less time in the workforce than they did in college.
In a setting like this, it’s natural to think that academic performance would be viewed as being on par with work experience. But typically, GPA isn’t the “tell-all” factor when it comes to screening less experienced talent — personal skills, culture fit and ambition are often much more telling than what they got on their midterms.
However, asking a candidate about their grades can reveal one important character trait: how they present their successes — and failures.
In a nutshell, when I ask about GPA, I want to see who tries to lie.
If You Got It…
There’s certainly some selection bias in terms of who declines to report their grades. Stellar students with 3.9 grade point averages, tons of extracurriculars and accolades tend to advertise that fact, and why wouldn’t they?
But if a candidate is trying to avoid the topic in any way, whether around the actual number itself, access to their transcripts, or being upfront about their time in school in general — that’s a huge red flag for me.
If candidates aren’t transparent throughout the interview process, what will stop them from acting that way once they’re a part of your team?
Going Beyond The Resume
I’ve come to find the way a candidate talks about their time in school is much more telling than the grades themselves. After all, there are a number of factors that can contribute to why someone’s GPA ended up where it did.
Maybe a candidate had a life event that impacted their ability to attend class, or they started off in a major they didn’t like, and switched gears later than they should have. Those are stories that can’t be told on a transcript, and can actually say more about a candidate’s work ethic, adaptability and cultural fit than just a number.
“Soft Skills” Over Hard Numbers
According to an article from Forbes, recruiters are shifting their focus on “soft skills” when it comes to evaluating Millennial candidates, valuing personal traits like attention and adaptability over a bachelor’s degree. Among those traits listed? Humility.
“Not taking yourself too seriously, admitting when you don’t know stuff and asking for help when you need it are some of the most advanced skills of all,” Caroline Beacon writes.
Which brings us back to our earlier point. Great grades or not, if a candidate is upfront about their shortcomings, it shows they’re willing to learn and grow — which is important when considering entry-level hires and their longevity within your organization.
On the flip side — remember that A+ student with the picture-perfect grades? Imagine they walk into your interview with unrealistic salary expectations and workplace demands, because, you know, they deserve it. Is that really the type of person someone you want at your company, anyway?
The Bottom Line
While a great GPA can be a good indicator to initiate a screening interview, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. That’s why going beyond the resume and opening up a line of communication early on in the screening process is key.
If a candidate can show you how they got to where they are, the interview process becomes much more immersive — ultimately helping you eliminate bias based off GPA alone, and allowing you to make more informed decisions when considering which candidates to send through to the next round.