How important are academic results when recruiting graduates?

Recruitment Strategies

A good degree is a must if new graduates are to be selected for a job interview. Or is it? James Innes, Chairman of The and author of The CV Book and Lisa Rinaldi, Regional Director of Cordant Recruitment highlight other factors for recruiters to consider…


Do you think that exclusively interviewing people with a 2:1 or better miss out on talent?

James Innes: Should everyone with a degree below a 2:1 be consigned to the scrapheap? No, of course they shouldn’t. It all depends on the circumstances. Does the job really require someone with a 2:1 or above? What else does the candidate have to offer? Conversely, if the job in question does require a high academic level then, faced with huge numbers of applications, whittling out those with lower grades is often the only way to go.”

Lisa Rinaldi: There is an element of pushing out a large number of potentially ideal applicants if companies narrow their search criteria too much. If a hiring manager is willing to consider changing their expectations of results and to look at a range of degree subjects, as opposed to looking at just one, this opens up the number of candidates.

So what can and can’t you tell about someone, based on degree classification?

James: An important point, which is often overlooked, is that academic achievement isn’t limited to being an indicator of intelligence; it’s also an indicator of a candidate’s ability to apply themselves and of their work ethic. While it’s a useful measure of an individual, it needs to be looked at in context and other factors must be taken into account to obtain a fuller picture of the person: their strengths, their weaknesses and what they might bring to the table.

Lisa: If a candidate has a high academic achievement from a top university this would be advantageous, especially if it is an essential requirement for the job, [but] you can’t tell too much about a candidate purely based on what result they achieved in their chosen degree. If a candidate has a lower degree but has extensive work experience this could also be a beneficial factor.

How, specifically, can extracurricular activities trump academic achievements?

Lisa: The ability to demonstrate work experience, whether on a paid or voluntary basis such as an internship, will always boost a candidate’s job application. They will be able to give competency-based examples of tasks they have dealt with and will have an understanding of some of the challenges in the workplace.

James: It all depends on what the recruiter is looking for. If you’re looking to sell golf products wholesale then your candidate may not have performed as well as you would have liked in his marketing degree but if he’s a top amateur golfer then you’ll probably be very interested in him nonetheless (that’s based on a real-life example, by the way).

There’s clearly a lot to consider. Is there a general rule you can apply to ensure success at the recruiting stage, or do you have to go on your gut instinct each time?

Lisa: There needs to be a balance between academic qualifications and experience. Each job role and industry will have its own criteria and requirements.

James: If only there were a general rule – it would be so much easier! But, no, there isn’t. And nor should you go on “gut instinct”. It should always be a well-informed, educated “guess”. Just don’t expect to always be right! That’s life.

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