GPA or Experience? What’s More Important For Getting A Job?

Posted by Resh Perera

It’s almost as challenging as completing your degree; attaining a full time graduate position in your field of expertise. It’s a competitive marketplace. Graduate Careers Australia, a regulatory body assigned with collating data on post university employment trends, denotes that out of roughly 105,000 graduates in 2015, just under 70,000 secured a full time, industry to tertiary related position upon graduating. A figure which leaves a whopping number of skilled and tertiary accredited young professionals searching for that entry level role to begin their executive journey. The numbers gap between employed graduates and those who aren’t successful highlights just how difficult landing a dream job can be. So, for budding university leavers looking to land their first job, what are employers looking for in a CV?

Is it your GPA or professional experience that makes you more employable when departing the sandstone steps of your alma mater?

The Answer?

Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, there’s no straight yes or no answer. A lot of reasoning behind employer decisions regarding graduate applicants is dependent on the field itself: industry status, the employer and the project/position they’re hiring for. Some industries for example, such as Law and Accounting, have quotas graduates must meet in order to be eligible for a position straight out of uni. The big 4 accounting firms and big 6 law firms have a minimum GPA grade requirement that must be passed first in order to attain an interview. It makes sense for huge corporate conglomerates like this to have entry requirements. Given their huge size and the wealth of the marketplace they boast, they’re looking for recent graduates who will complement their business values and offer the best return for their salary. From there, a display of a strong work ethic paired with proven competence helps pave pathways for career growth. Because universities are pumping out so many more graduates than ever before, firms like these can easily afford to be picky.

It’s important to remember that big companies and industries like the ones mentioned, have fully fledged, developed and detailed graduate programs. Other industries like banking and engineering also offer extensive pathways for tertiary leavers. Graduate positions come with challenges. They’re fiercely competitive and have strict applicant guidelines that must be adhered to.

So, for those not pursuing a conventional career path, or rather, aren’t studying or looking for a position in the aforementioned fields, what should you value more in pursuit of a career?

To get an idea, take a look at Google’s HR approach. The search engine giant stated earlier this year that they believe high grade point averages to be a poor indicator of career success and not necessarily relevant to a graduate's full potential. However, a high GPA is still a great thing to have. At the end of the day, doing well in university highlights your ability to conduct thorough research, critically analyse information, be disciplined, work hard and achieve exceptional results. All things that are impressive in the eyes of employers when hiring a new staff member. Ben Reeves, head of the Australian Association of Graduate Employees, (AAGE), points out that employers want graduates who are work-ready and can grow in whatever role they are given. Marks are an important early indicator, but they aren’t the be all and end all.

Assessments given in university differ vastly from the day to day responsibilities and challenges experienced in a full time specialised position. Reeves further highlights that while employers want smart and work ready employees, academic aptitude is a poor indicator by itself of whether a graduate will be a good fit for an organisation.

Furthermore, a lot of businesses and firms don’t have the cash flow boasted by big corporate giants. They have limited budgets for training and development. Hiring someone who, while having a relative degree in the industry, lacks role specific skills and experience can mean it costs an employer money and productivity since they have to allocate considerable time to train and develop the new employee. The fact that they would rather hire someone with a few years experience right off the bat makes sense. Having experience sets a person apart from the sea of other graduates out there, which is important when competition is so fierce.

Experience is more valuable to the majority of employers, who are looking to stay within budget and optimise productivity. Hence why work experience is so important. A solid balance of both a decent GPA and suitable professional experience will get you through the front door better than either factor on its own. In the current climate, the majority of employers will prefer to interview experience over your GPA. This also includes experience in extra curricular working spaces related to university degrees.

Try and standout where it matters. A motivation to do or develop something on your own, or run a program or chair a board somewhat related to university is an incredibly helpful factor when companies are collating graduate candidates. Sarah Harper, head of global graduate recruitment at Goldman Sachs, states that they seek out university candidates who sport internship experience and extra curricular accolades, both of which suggest a motivated and ‘can do’ attitude.

How To Stand Out

Leading recruitment agent Michael Page points out that having an X-factor appeal to your CV is what really gets the attention of employers - a balance of both role/industry specific experience and tertiary qualifications boasting a mid to high GPA. Attaining an internship and/or work experience from the commencement of your degree is a great start. Even if you’re halfway through your studies, it’s never too late to begin sourcing relevant experience.

While trends show that employers favour professional experience or proven role specific skills, this doesn’t mean your university course doesn’t matter. Not at all. In fact, efficient management of both a professional work placement and maintaining a mid to high GPA is a perfect strategy to help build your CV ‘X’ factor. Plus, what’s not to love about having extra knowledge, discipline, proven analytical and research skills and a hard working attitude?

When thinking about your career path, the best thing to do is try and put yourself in a position where you can attain as much relative experience both theoretically and practically. Equipping your CV with employer relevant details will put you in the box seat after receiving that piece of paper and handshake from the vice chancellor. The evidence show that experience is particularly important, but academia is very far from being a non issue. Working hard and seizing opportunities are notions that have transcended industry trends as long as there have been universities and graduates.

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