The happiest days? Your old exam scores could come back to haunt you

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As the graduate recruitment season gets under way, it is time to buff up your CV, line up your referees and dredge up some of those results from school tests you took years ago.

As a teenager, you knew your performance mattered. Your results helped determine which university would accept you. But you probably did not realise they might also haunt you beyond your academic career.

Even as standardised exams come under fire as poor predictors of performance and many employers turn to other means to measure emotional intelligence when hiring for higher ranks, some of the biggest graduate employers – especially consultancies and investment banks – continue to demand candidates submit past results.

They “indicate a certain level of raw intelligence”, as one investment bank recruiter said. Many employers also want grade point averages – GPAs, also called university points in the UK – from university and graduate school.

A score threshold is the first step in the weeding-out process, says Fred Foulkes, director of the Human Resources Policy Institute at Boston University. “The supply of people looking for jobs is greater than the demand and asking candidates to submit their test scores and grades is a way for companies to cut the pile [of applicants] in half,” he says.

For most managers, placing graduates in entry-level positions, grades and scores are useful proxies for mental horsepower. The earlier you are in your career – and the more traditional the company you are applying to – the more weight your results have. The reason is simple: your school record matters more because there is less information overall on which to judge your ability.

According to a report published this year by the US-based National Association of Colleges and Employers, many companies require candidates to have a minimum GPA of 3.0. Employers also view GPA as a “tiebreaker” – meaning that if you and another candidate seem similarly qualified, the one with a higher GPA will get the job, the report says.

At Ernst & Young, the global accounting firm, good grades are a key qualification for entry-level jobs and a reliable measurement of “technical ability and work ethic”, says Dan Black, who directs recruiting for the Americas.

While EY does not have a minimum GPA requirement, certain strictures exist. “There is no hard-and-fast rule, but the lower the GPA, the more evidence we need to see of other competencies,” he says.

“If someone comes to us with a 3.9 from a great school, that’s an indicator that they can handle the technical rigours of the job. If someone has a GPA in the lower 3.0 range we would want to see that they had a part-time job to help get through school, or played a sport, or were active in student government. There needs to be a reason [for it].”

At LinkedIn, the professional networking company, hiring managers take a job candidate’s academic background into consideration during the selection process, but want to know more, says Brendan Browne, senior director of global talent acquisition.

“If someone has a 4.0 GPA or scored a perfect 800 on the SAT, they are probably going to let you know.”

But LinkedIn managers also want to know “what have [job applicants] done? How do they think? And what have they built?”

For some companies, however, the fading use of testing in the middle and upper ranks of the organisation has penetrated down to entry level jobs.

Laszlo Bock, senior vice-president of people operations at Google, for instance, thinks grades and test scores are meaningless criteria on which to judge an applicant. Mr Bock also says the company has retreated from giving candidates puzzle-solving tests and brainteasers during the interview process because those tools do not predict how a candidate will develop.

David Lord, an independent executive search consultant, says: “Now the goal [for employers] is trying to figure out not only how smart candidates are, but how well they will fit the organisation.”

The task is similar for US universities, which have reduced the weight they give standardised tests in their admissions process following research showing there was little correlation between their scores and subsequent performance.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the recent changes to how school tests are marked has made analysing A, B and C grades trickier – at least for the early years of the redesigned system.

Nevertheless, despite these imperfections, academic marks still serve as useful weeding-out tools for those deciding between entry-level job candidates.

So teenagers beware. Your test and exam results could count long after you have graduated from school.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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