Dear ReWorker: How Do I Tell My Boss to Stop Asking Candidates For College GPAs?
OCTOBER 15, 2019
I'm a new HR person in a small business of 60 people. I'm posting a job description, and my boss wants me to use the same job posting template and application process the company has used in the past. I reviewed this template, only to find out that it requires applicants to submit their college GPAs and information about where they went to high school. These aren't entry-level roles. How can I convince my boss that this approach will cause us to lose out on qualified candidates?
Dear Wrongful Recruiting,
You might be eager to change the current system in place so you can interview and hire candidates your way. But first, I’d urge you to ask some preliminary questions.
Before you explain to your boss why asking applicants for their GPAs and high schools is an ineffective way to attract qualified candidates, take a step back. The first question you should ask your boss is what he is hoping to learn from this information. He may respond with some of the following problematic reasoning:
1) We want to know that candidates are hardworking and intelligent.
2) We want to hire people who graduated from a good school.
3) We want to make sure our employees aren’t slackers.
4) We want to hire people with ties to their community, and seeing where they graduated from high school helps us do that.
5) We give preference to people who graduated from our alma maters. (Note that this reasoning is particularly problematic!)
6) We've always asked for this information, and it hasn't failed us yet.
If I were to take an educated guess, I would say number six is the most probable. "This is the way we’ve always done it, and that's that" is a common sentiment in the modern workplace, especially at organizations where transformation efforts pose threats to more traditional hiring practices.
But let's tackle some of the other explanations.
School Smart vs. Work Smart
Reasons one through five are what we call proxies. Instead of evaluating, for ourselves, if the candidate is hardworking and intelligent, we assume that because they graduated from a reputable university with good grades, they are hardworking and intelligent.
And this is probably true to some extent. A student who gets straight As and has the SAT scores required to attend a top university is generally thought to be smart. But there’s a difference between someone who is school smart and someone who is good at their job. It’s entirely possible to have a high school diploma and higher education degree, and still be a terrible employee. Meanwhile, another employee who went to a lower-ranked school and got a D in physics—or didn’t go to college at all—could be a great worker. Unless you’re hiring them for a role that requires deep knowledge in physics, for example, that grade is pretty meaningless.
Plus, hiring someone just because they went to the same school as you is a blatant display of bias—you should be making hires based on an individual’s unique capabilities and traits, not an existing stereotype of belief.
Grades From High School and College Become Less Important WIth Age
When someone is 18 and has minimal to no work experience, a high school diploma is an indicator that they are a reliable worker. You know that they got out of bed every day, went to school and got good enough grades to graduate. Someone who has a college diploma shows that they did that for four more years.
Do you know what also shows commitment and reliability? A solid work history.
GPAs and diplomas only tell you what someone did in the past—and every day school (and even college) become more distant, and therefore less relevant. People change, become more mature and focused. Instead of focusing on what someone did 10 or 20 years ago, focus on what they have accomplished over the last five years.
So What Do You Want to Know?
You want to know a candidate’s work history. You want to understand her accomplishments. And while you will get some of this insight on a regular resume, you will often need to dig deeper. Prepare questions for a phone screen such as "Tell me about your biggest accomplishment in your current/last position," or "What's the hardest thing you've done since finishing school?" Answers to these questions will provide a better indication of the skills they have, and how they communicate their experiences will give you more insight on their qualifications than any resume ever could.
Who you were as a teenager determined which college you got into, but we shouldn't be using those same metrics to judge mid-career professionals. Instead, focus on recent accomplishments, and you'll get better—and more qualified—candidates.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
Header image: Creative Commons
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