Why Grit Should Matter More Than Grades

Over the last few years, edtech and the use of big data has had a significant impact on the K-12 classroom, with leaders like AltSchool progressing toward more personalized learning experiences for students. In higher education, initiatives like Edx, the joint venture between Harvard and MIT, use big data to answer questions such as which type of content is better taught in person versus online.

Koru consistently hears students struggle to translate their academic learning to skills and strengths they can use to market themselves to employers after graduation. On the other hand, from the more than 200 employers we’ve interviewed and results from 85 third-party studies we’ve analyzed, we’ve learned that the the competencies that are most predictive of early career success (especially at high-growth tech companies) are things like Grit, Rigor, Impact, and Curiosity — and have nothing to do with where someone went to college, what they studied, or their GPA.

Even with all of the innovation driven by technology, schools still use GPA to measure academic success, and most employers still use GPA as a proxy for early career success.

Just think about the last time you made a hire. As you sifted through the 250 resumes many companies receive for entry-level openings, looking for the best candidates for your early career role (possibly with the help of technology in the form of an applicant tracking system), who would you have been more likely to hire — a college grad from a well-known university with a 4.0 GPA, or a college grad from a no-name university with a 3.2 GPA and two years as a food server? How would you tell which is more ready for your entry-level yet demanding role?

With no better signal to give an idea of which would be the higher-performing employee, most companies would hire the grad with the 4.0 from the well-known university. Sometimes they’ll get lucky and the 4.0 grads will turn out to be rock stars. Other times they won’t.

What GPA doesn’t show you is that the other grad is the first in her family to attend college, and she got a 3.2 because she was working long hours as a waitress to pay her way through college while she took a full load of courses. The Grit phenomenon was first studied in the classroom by Angela Duckworth who found that it was grit — not measures of intelligence like IQ — that was linked to academic success.

The quality of Grit isn’t limited to students with lower GPAs (we meet plenty of 4.0 grads with loads of Grit), but you get the idea. Grades are still the acceptable outcome measurement for defining a student’s success. But education experts like Angela are suggesting that grades are an antiquated measurement that rewards non-risk taking behavior in an innovation economy that increasingly needs a workforce willing to take risks. Innovation experts like SVP of people operations at Google Laszlo Bock will tell you “GPAs are worthless as a criteria for hiring.” When you’re defining a candidate only by his or her GPA, you’re missing other potential signifiers for success. So why aren’t we using big data to create new assessment models that measure Grit?

As we begin to focus more on how technology and the data it provides can — and should — revolutionize education, “edtech” should also focus on how technology can revolutionize the post-education signals we use in assessing a college grad’s academic success, and ultimately his or her job readiness. Even organizations like the National Association of Colleges and Employers agree and are taking steps to begin defining career readiness competencies that include “Professionalism/Worth Ethic.” If it sounds like Grit, that’s because there’s a growing awareness that it’s one of the No. 1 strengths employers are finding matters in talent acquisition today.

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So when you go to make your next hire and you start thinking about whether GPA will be one of your requirements, or when you hear grumbling around the water cooler about the last group of millennials who quit when the going got tough, think hard about hiring some gritty college grads. Regardless of their GPA.

image from Shutterstock

About the Author

Kristen Hamilton is the CEO and cofounder of Seattle-based Koru, the leading talent marketplace focused on landing college grads in jobs they love. Before serving as Koru’s CEO, she worked as COO of a global non-profit, launched mobile media devices for a Fortune 100 company, and helped take Onvia, which she co-founded, public.