Grade vs Experience?

During my days as a recruiter, I often got asked this category of questions at graduate recruitment events: is my grade good enough? Is my working experience good enough? Is working experience more important than grade?

Consider ‘student’ as an occupation just like engineer, programmer or doctor. Now, what is the most obvious purpose of a doctor? To save life. A programmer? To create software programs. An engineer? To build machines. A student? To absorb knowledge. Unfortunately in today’s world, how well have you absorbed the knowledge is almost purely measured by a grading system.

Many companies nowadays use e-recruitment systems which automatically filter candidates at preliminary rounds of selection. Elite private sector companies (e.g., institutional banks, top tier consultancies, high profile law firms) tend to recruit solely from elite universities (Go8 in Australia). A vast majority of companies tend to place a threshold on grade average, typically at a 70% mark (distinction in Australia). These restrictions tend to be less demanding in the public sector, where diversity plays a more important role as a selection criteria. In short, no matter which university you attend, aim at least a 70% average. This will significantly increase the chance your resume survives the first round of computerised selection.

Then it comes working experience. Graduate recruiters separate working experience into two categories: degree related and non-related. Degree related experience can be internship, cadetship, paid work and non-paid experience. It adds some value, in some specialised field (e.g., IT programming), great value, in a graduate’s application. Non-related experience is pretty much all the others. It adds little value. The reason I see it adds little value is because literally every graduate has some working experience of this kind. It is difficult to say working in a café is superior to working in a restaurant.

Finally it comes life experience. This type of experience is critical at interviews. Candidate at this round often possess similar level of technical expertise. The aim of interviews, particularly those held for graduate recruitment, is to evaluate the interpersonal traits of candidates. In other word, can I work with you everyday? Interesting life experience including study abroad, travel, exchange or excursion tends to attract attention from interviewers and become a good discussion point.

One thing I recommend to university students is to list your accomplishment in all three areas: academic achievement, working experience and life experience. Then, evaluate and determine your strengths and weaknesses. The earlier this is done, the more time you have to address the weaknesses. If possible, share your findings with close friends and families. Their feedback can be extremely helpful in directing you onto the right track.

To be continued…


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