Hiring the C students
When I worked at ACT, researchers there established that grades and test scores had zero correlation with adult-life accomplishment, provided that a basic level of skill and knowledge was gained—in other words, 20 years on, you could not tell from real-life accomplishments and professional standing who was an A student and who was a C student.
That was when and why ACT added the “out-of-class accomplishments” section to their test instrument. Scores on those scales also did not correlate with grades or test scores—but did correlate with later accomplishment, which makes sense: the best predictor of future performance is past performance (for people, not stocks and bonds). And it makes sense in this specific case: a person with the initiative, energy, and motivation to undertake out-of-class (unassigned) projects, those characteristics will likely persist, and in real life, those are just the ticket.
So we come to the rational decision that C students are a bargain, particularly if your interview focuses on specific out-of-class accomplishments (along these lines).
Whenever I return to my old university, I am always struck by how incredibly focused, purposeful and studious everyone seems to be. It fills me with despair.
It’s hard to tell the difference between a university and a business school nowadays. Where are all the hippies, the potheads and the commies? And why is everyone so intently serious and sober all the time? ‘Oh, it’s simple,’ a friend explained. ‘If you don’t get a 2:1 or a first nowadays, employers won’t look at your CV.’
So, as a keen game-theorist, I struck on an idea. Recruiting next year’s graduate intake for Ogilvy would be easy. We could simply place ads in student newpapers: ‘Headed for a 2:2 or a third? Finish your joint and come and work for us.’
Let me explain. I have asked around, and nobody has any evidence to suggest that, for any given university, recruits with first-class degrees turn into better employees than those with thirds (if anything the correlation operates in reverse). There are some specialised fields which may demand spectacular mathematical ability, say, but these are relatively few.
So my game theoretic instincts suggest that if we confine our recruitment efforts to people in the lower half of the degree ladder we shall have an exclusive appeal to a large body of people no less valuable than anyone else. And such people will be far more loyal hires, since we won’t be competing for their attention with deep-pocketed pimps in investment banking.
The logic is inarguable: the best people to hire (or date) are those undervalued by the market. (An expat friend of mine always dated Brooklyn girls for this reason: their accent seemed exotically alluring to him but was repellent to most New Yorkers.)
This approach will be familiar to readers of the book Moneyball, which records the story of the baseball manager Billy Beane. Given evidence showing that the metrics historically used to determine the value of a player did not best correspond to his value on the field, Beane made a series of hires which turned the cash-strapped Oakland Athletics into a surprise success.
So, in the absence of any evidence that degree-class is a predictor of value, why don’t businesses follow Moneyball and hire more inventively?
The answer is . . .
And he doesn’t include another reason for basing hiring decisions on academic achievement: covering one’s ass. If the candidate fails in the job, the hiring manager would rather say, “Well, don’t blame me! He had a Harvard/Stanford MBA” than, “We’ve been over this. I know he was a self-educated chicken farmer, but I was impressed at his knowledge, initiative, and drive,” etc. In other words, brushing off failure if you can shift the faulty judgment from yourself to someone else—Harvard/Stanford in this case. “It’s their fault, not mine!” seems to many a much better thing to say than, “Yeah, I made a mistake.”