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After hiring committee one day, we digressed into a discussion of the value of a high GPA from university. One of my colleagues made the point that the value of an individual with a high GPA from a four year degree is that you know the person will get done what needs to get done.

To have a high GPA, a student needs to finish term papers on subjects they have no interest in, they need to study for exams in language for which they have no intention of using again, he will read books by authors he disagrees with and toil into the night on problem sets that have little perceivable utility.

But in the end they will get it done, and if they maintained a high GPA they have shown that he will get it done year over year and always with high quality.

So a high GPA often means that they are not lazy and self centered. It often means a candidate will not sit idle because a task is beneath her, and she will not pigeonhole on a perfecting an ancillary module when there are better things to do.

A student who does not do what is required, who would fritter away on self entertainment via music or finger painting is not someone who can be relied on.




This is apparently rational at a single level of analysis (at least if you take the stereotypical sociopathic corporation stance and don't care about the waste of life involved - I understand some people do think like this, though I'm mildly surprised to see someone admit to it on HN).

It breaks down as soon as you step the analysis up to the next level and remember you're not the only employer in the world. People who have pieces of paper with high numbers on them and are actually good, can easily find jobs.

Which, unless you are Google or Fog Creek, probably means they already have jobs. Very few employers get to cherry-pick from all the world, those candidates with the highest perceived desirability. The vast majority will be looking at applications from candidates whose perceived desirability was slightly lower.

The question you should ask yourself is, would you rather hire someone whose perceived desirability was slightly lower because of the lack of a piece of paper with high numbers on it, or because of actual inability to do the job?


I suspect few people are reliable at all tasks, that there is a spectrum of reliability on arbitrary/tedious/unmeaningful tasks, and that where you fall on that spectrum is unrelated to how reliable you might be at meaningful work.

In other words, I think your hiring committee is fallaciously flattening out human nature. For all I know that works fine for you, so don't let me stop you.

But: your last sentence was pretty dismissive and harmed your argument.


In no way is GPA the only dimension on which we evaluate candidates. The discussion arose when we asked if it was useful at all. And I agree with my colleague, it is indeed useful in predicting self control and persistance.

I do however agree with you about the last comment. If there were not already replies, I would edit it to make the point in another way. But the intention is still the same. The time not being spent on homework, in the case of the article, is being spent on entertainment.


Having a low GPA does not indicate that the person spends their time "frittering away on self entertainment via music or finger painting" - it might mean that they don't waste their time on things that aren't valuable, and focus intensely on what is important - which could be the very skills that would be useful in whatever post-university life they will have.

Granted, if you are trying to hire a drone who will mindlessly accomplish whatever they are tasked to do (and will never challenge stupid ideas), perhaps independence and creative thought are the last thing you want, but it's pretty intellectually bankrupt to conclude that anyone who doesn't get good grades is just wasting their time.


I guess it depends what you are hiring for...

If you are hiring for someone that will just "do the work" and not care what it is, then it seems like this is sound logic.

However, if you're looking for someone who is creative and passionate about their work, believes in what your business is trying to do, and the work they are trying to accomplish, and will find the best way to accomplish it -- school no longer seems so representative of this, where they know the tasks they are completing serve no purpose other than a "grade."


Do you really want to hire somebody whose most notable talent is their ability to bullshit their superiors and tell them what they want to hear?


The unfortunate reality is in a lot of (big) organisation people who can bullshit progress the furthest.

I've worked with plenty of managers that would rather not know the truth if it meant having to deal with a problem.

To them denial is bliss.


Unfortunately that is how the hiring systems for most things work.


So he should do something he has no interest in so he can get a job where he's doing things he has no interest in?


I wish my parents had shared this view with me at the beginning of highschool, as opposed to the standard "knowledge is the path to a better life" mantra. I now try to explain to any young student I know that school is a game where you have to win despite the arbitrary information, inconsistant rules, social games, and bad teachers. It feels short-sighted, overly-realistic, and depressing, but it would have served me better than filling me with hopes and dreams.


Considering the level of grade inflation today and the number of students who cheat in college and/or to get to college, I can't imagine taking GPA seriously.


No. Just no. Academia != real-world work.

If the school system's mandate is to prepare and evaluate students for the workplace, it is not doing a very good job.

The style of work and incentive systems differ greatly between your typical company and university. The differences in incentive systems are obvious, so I won't delve.

But as for the style of work, I recall that in university, professors would ask students to write a computer program on PAPER for exams. Sure, there is some overlap between that and a workplace environment. But at the end of the day, it is not simulating a real-world work environment, where you would be able to run and test your program, debug it, look up little tidbits on Google, and so forth, before checking it in.


>> One of my colleagues made the point that the value of an individual with a high GPA from a four year degree is that you know the person will get done what needs to get done.

What? The student's context of getting things done is learning, not scoring marks. So the student is not getting things done. In short the student has just gamed the system to ensure he looks like someone who gets things done.

>>To have a high GPA

Too high or too low marks are both an indication that something wrong is going with the student.

>>But in the end they will get it done, and if they maintained a high GPA they have shown that he will get it done year over year and always with high quality.

Sorry, if you subscribe to this theory all you will get is students coming in a assembly line whose only known expertise is to score marks.

>>So a high GPA often means that they are not lazy and self centered. It often means a candidate will not sit idle because a task is beneath her, and she will not pigeonhole on a perfecting an ancillary module when there are better things to do.

This needs some elaboration.

Interviews are the equivalent of the examinations in the corporate world. When you hire nth order mug pots expert at scoring high marks, you are ideally hiring someone is too good at interviews. Think of it this way, if you spent approximately 3 hours practicing interviews everyday- you can soon(say in 2 years) reach a state where you can clear any interview in any company. Google, Microsoft, Adobe, FB- You name it, you would have likely covered anything that they can ever ask or will ever ask, you can even get to a stage where you can anticipate every damn question or the whole interview by just their initial questions. But to get there you will have to spend good amount of time practicing than actually doing the work you are supposed to do.

Believe it or not many people actually do exactly this. I know of a person in my last company who would dedicate at least spend 2-3 hours in a day practicing interviews come hell or high water. The person hardly ever got the work done, but had one quality. Practice interviews well, and then change your company every 2-3 years, and from what I know is highest compensated among all my friends and previous colleagues I know.


I do hope that works for you, but very much on my mind after reading this is Job's "misfit" quote: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/38357.html

A student who does not do what is required... would have described me throughout much of my career, and there is a string of bosses, unfortunately, that may have ulcers as a result of employing me, what with my wild ideas and unchecked imagination.


I don't question the value of reliability and persistence, but in your frame of reference, that's the most valuable attribute of a new hire. Is that really the truth?


It depends on the position and level one is hiring at, really. For a senior engineer or manager we want a leader, someone who both has vision and can get things done in an organization. For a junior engineer we need only someone who can execute.

When looking at GPA, it is the later. In my experience it is a very rare college who who has the intuition or insight to drive any part of a product.


For a hiring committee, most likely. A committee at any corporation would be incapable of measuring or understanding anything else. :P

I joke but most managers at places at have hiring committees are more interested in underlings obeying orders than showing any form of excellence.


While I don't completely agree the logic is sound. There are just too many inconsistent hurdles during adolescence to overcome and still come out ahead. That said, how do you weigh the merits of program choices? I ask because there are degrees which are of lesser difficulty depending on the school. How do you differentiate between a chemistry degree and an anthropology degree (not implying either is harder, mind you.)


I had a high GPA and was both lazy and self-centered. Just, FYI. That's why I have so much useless karma here on HN.


I interviewed thousands of new college grads. The guys who I made offers to were almost always guys who did stuff on their own. Right before I retired, the last guy I made a job offer to showed me an app he had written for his iphone that simulated how particles diffuse in a solvent, and his resume showed a link to the code that he wrote.

His GPA was only a 3.5. But I totally got him: he was great because he had a passion for digging into stuff, and not just for jumping through professors' hoops.

In general, the correlation I found between GPA and competence was this:

Below 3.0, something is wrong. This person doesn't get fundamentals: he will write convoluted code and won't get a lot of basic concepts. He either isn't very bright or highly undisciplined or both.

3.0 - 3.5, this guy isn't good at jumping through hoops, but he might be great if he has a passion for programming and has done lots of side work. It's a mixed lot but there are a fair number of diamonds in the rough.

3.5 - 3.9, this is the sweet spot. Lots of great people in this category who did both great and school and also did stuff in their spare time.

3.9 - 4.0, oddly, the quality seemed to go down here a little bit. These are the people who spent all their Friday and Saturday nights studying instead of developing social skills, and didn't really do much besides jump through the professors' hoops and get an A in everything.

A great engineer doesn't just blindly jump through every hoop. In the real world, the amount of work is highly unbounded, and a great engineer will be able to sort through it and figure out what's REALLY important and what's not. And they'll be able to articulate why they think that and negotiate with others. Sometimes, the 4.0 candidates were obsessive-compulsive people weren't grounded in the real world and couldn't think in practical terms.

Obviously, I'm generalize and there are always exceptions. But if you interview thousands of candidates you see the trend.


This is an irrational model for evaluating a candidate's talent. The best way to evaluate a candidate's talent is to make them code for you, plain and simple. Many people's motivations in university diverge from their motives in the professional world. Some people will work much harder when the result is a paycheck every two weeks, or when they have to feed a family, or because they see their work career as distinct from their academic career. But for the sake of argument, let's play along with this naive model.

The university they attended matters almost as much as their GPA, as we all know that professors will tend to curve the difficulty of their course to conform to the quality of the students they are teaching.

And you have an illogical attitude towards 3.9-4.0 students. Almost every student who attends an Ivy-caliber school had a 3.9-4.0 in high school. Surely, you aren't implying that the quality of a CalTech CS graduate is lower than the quality of a UCLA CS graduate, because the CalTech students' one-time GPA was likely a 4.0. And you certainly can't be saying that Ivy-caliber students are sheep who blindly jump through hoops.


> The best way to evaluate a candidate's talent is to make them code for you, plain and simple.

For evaluating talent, sure, but the job interview process isn't about finding the most talented candidates, it's about finding the candidates who would do the job the best. The point of the parent and grandparent comments was that GPA was an important indicator for the non-talent portions of the jobs they were hiring for.

From personal experience, I've worked with several people who were absolutely brilliant when presented with a new and interesting problem, but as the novelty wore off (usually on the scale of weeks) and their excitement waned, their ability to actually complete their work dropped off, too. That's not something you can tell by just making them code for you.


All the candidates I gave serious consideration to write lots of code (as did my staff who also interviewed them). But I can't interview everyone whose resume I receive: I can only pick the best resumes. When a candidate failed the interview process, I tried to figure out the error I made (if any) in order select better resumes in the future.

And I agree that schools are different. I occasionally considered candidates from schools that people snicker about, like San Jose State. But they had better have aced everything and really stand out from the pack to overcome that handicap. Sometimes, great people have life circumstances that corral them into lame schools. On the other hand, I'd give pretty serious consideration to a candidate from Harvey Mudd or CalTech with a 3.1. (But even at those great schools, the < 3.0 rule seemed to apply: candidates with a really low GPA couldn't pass the technical parts of interviewing. You'd be surprised how many CS graduates from top schools can't implement the C library strrev() function or return a pointer to the nth element of a linked list.)


My experience agrees with yours, the college hires who made me the most excited were those who had side projects and summer start ups.

You're breakdown of GPA is interesting and reasonable. It would be interesting to see if it correlates with first reviews and time at level.




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