Your College GPA Means Nothing to Me

Mark
Lancaster

I was recently asked by a family friend to help her daughter through a difficult part in her post high school life: determining an academic concentration and ultimately the field of her career. One of her first questions was “What do employers look for in a candidate?”. The answer varies wildly between potential employers, but got me thinking about the attributes I look for when hiring someone.

But before I begin my list, I will tell you what I don’t look for in a future employee: academic qualifications.

Academic results reveal nothing about the true potential value of an employee. A candidate could have a 3.6 GPA in Mechanical Engineering, yet totally fail as a reliable employee. A candidate could have gone to MIT and graduated Summa Cum Laude, but lack all motivation to be any kind of leader in your organization. You can’t rely on someone’s academic performance as an indicator for future success.

So what do I look for?

1. Experience

Nothing outweighs experience. Granted, fresh out of college most candidates have little to no experience, so if you’re reading this and you’re about to graduate: GO GET AN INTERNSHIP. Paid or un-paid; do it.

Otherwise, for those not fresh out of school, experience can be a difficult thing to quantify. Sure months and years offer an idea, but that’s only a measurement of time, not an accounting of what you know and have gone through on the job. Be sure your resume and introductory emails include a thorough description of your work experience.

2. Aptitude

Whenever interviewing someone I always ask what the candidate is currently learning that does not directly relate to their job. The answer, even if it’s “nothing, but I want to learn…”, will tell me a lot about that person.

The ability to learn and to teach oneself is invaluable; to both the company and yourself. There certainly are times in which the company should send their employees to workshops or conferences, but when employees are able to add new skill sets on their own volition instead of using company funds both parties win. And let’s be honest, conferences are just about partying (looking at you OTC).

Aptitude also implies a willingness to learn. And that willingness to continue improve oneself is indicative of that person’s nature. I’m wary of co-workers who have seemingly stopped learning new things; stagnancy does not breed innovation or growth.

3. Resourcefulness

The last thing a growing company needs are people who are dependent. Employees who are able to find solutions without the assistance of other co-workers and bosses eventually develop a sense of autonomy that will radically improve productivity.

Think about the people in your company that you feel you can depend on to do anything… Are they the type of person who “needs” some kind of technological solution to make their jobs easier, or are they the type of person who finds a solution regardless of the resources at hand?

The most successful people I have ever met are never hindered by their resources.

4. Personality

This is perhaps the most overlooked attribute when hiring someone. A healthy and diverse company culture is the backbone of a successful business. This becomes especially important in companies where identifying and solving problems needs to happen quickly.

“My biggest mistake is probably weighing too much on someone’s talent and not someone’s personality. I think it matters whether someone has a good heart.” — Elon Musk

Let’s boil this down to the simplest example. What kind of team produces the highest level of innovation: the team with the most talent, or the team that works together best? I’d say the latter.

Also, sense of humor is also vastly underrated. In the middle my interviews I like to throw a curveball: “Would you rather have shoeboxes for hands or a broomstick as a tail?”. If they don’t at least chuckle, that could be an issue. And slightly awkward.

5. Wisdom

Knowledge can be found easily. It’s no longer a commodity in short supply. Someone who is “knowledgeable” will know all the right industry phrases and buzz words, but often not be able to provide much insight. Wisdom, however, involves discernment, empathy, and patience. A wise person socratically solves problems and while rarely becoming temperamental. They listen before speaking and have the foresight to see opportunities before others.


And that’s my list in order of precedence as I see it. Let me know what you think below and if you have any that you think should be added.

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