July 24th, 2013 by matthias

My colleague @julianchilds forwarded me an article by Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, in the Spectator (normally not part of my news diet). @rorysutherland made an interesting point – he observed that pressure to succeed in university had led to a culture of drone-like graduates, all driven by the so-called ‘top’ recruiters’ demanding first or upper second class degrees. He stated that there is no evidence that what makes you a great student turns you into a great employee, and therefore thought it would be worthwhile to improve his chances of getting to real talent by looking where none of his peers seem to be looking – the lower seconds and thirds churned out by universities every year, not tainted by conformity and overfishing by large recruiters. In an entertaining way, he describes how he would want to subvert HR’s usual hiring practises by offering references and a fast career track to stoners.

I liked the article a lot (it aligns with my sense of humour, and my disregard for established conventions) – although I don’t really align with his general praise of the economist Hayek (albeit mostly due to lack of understanding on my part), and not really understanding game theory – and it seems to go down a storm with my Twitter followers. And rightly so, as it calls the bluff created by education and recruiters, namely that being told what to learn in advance gives you a) better knowledge, and b) makes you more employable. I didn’t learn this anew, but his quote of Hayek is spot on: ‘Often that is treated as important which happens to be accessible to measurement.’ (see my re-blogged post on performance related pay).

So, what have I learnt? Let’s not even look at the socially exclusive tendency to openly only go for ‘top’ universities – this is a measure to restrict the graduate pool to a manageable number – nothing more, nothing less. I’m not aware of employers actually complaining about the quality of students as students – so his central premise is in my humble opinion a valid one: just being best in class does not make you a good employee. It shows many valuable traits, but the requirements of education and the workplace differ wildly – and from that follows that the degree classification alone is a bad predictor of success as an employee. In fact, in our daily practice at work, we often see high achievers struggle with adapting from a student to a worker identity – and those struggling academically shine in the workplace – especially when given the chance to do a sandwich placement. So I align with Sutherland’s view, in fact I greet it and encourage students to challenge convention – and be proud of their achievements, yes, even if that’s ‘only’ a 2.2 or a third.

PS: This post kind of links to an earlier one on challenging conventions – The power of giving up. Have a look.

Posted in Commentary, Education & Employability, Reblogged Tagged with: , , , ,