Recruiters reveal what employers are really looking for when they hire staff straight out of university.
CAREERS’ panel of expert recruiters answers a reader’s question each week. Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
What is more important to employers when hiring a graduate – a good GPA or experience in a work environment?
Head of Organisational Psychology Consulting,
Stillwell Management Consultants
Employers generally do not tend to have a blanket preference, preferring instead to look at what each applicant offers as a total package. A high GPA or work experience, in the absence of the other, will be demonstrative of a work ethic, self-discipline and commitment, all of which are attractive. If the role has a significant practical component and the employer needs a graduate who can perform those skills immediately without training, they may place greater emphasis on work experience. Employers are, however, placing increasing importance on demonstrated potential/performance of abstract intelligence and of personal and interpersonal skills such as leadership, emotional intelligence and resilience which may be satisfied by either, but more likely a combination of both – a high GPA and work experience.
While it varies by employer and role, in general, both are required to stand out and secure your first graduate job. In fact, while employers value the solid technical foundation of a relevant qualification, experience counts too. That’s why students who undertake professional work experience during their semester breaks or throughout their study stand out when they enter the job market. Even a few weeks of relevant voluntary work experience gives a graduate an advantage over others who lack such real-life practical experience. Relevant experience is even more important for those with an MBA or further qualification. If you want to undertake such study, our advice is to wait and gain a solid career history first. Otherwise you risk becoming too academically qualified without the relevant commercial acumen and experience to make the additional study pay off in practice.
Both are important but I think it really comes down to being dependent upon both the job and how competitive the field of applicants is. You could also even argue that having the right behavioural competencies is even more important than either a good GPA or previous experience in a work environment. Generally speaking, I’m not sure that employers care too much whether somebody achieved a Pass or High Distinction average, as long as they have attained the necessary qualification. Having experience in a work environment is also more valuable than what many graduates may realise.
It really depends on which industry you’re graduating into. Competitive sectors in engineering and science may put more emphasis on a GPA than other disciplines, however experience in a work environment will always be a huge asset in scoring that first job. Employers also look favourably on students who have undertaken internships and been proactive in obtaining experience and putting themselves out there. Ask your lecturers and past graduates for their advice and experiences in your field and try to set yourself up for success with both good grades and either volunteer/internship experience.
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