How important is the school report or what relevance do the grades from your studies have for finding a good job? I am asked that very often by applicants who would like to burn their certificates. For many of them, bad grades are a sure reason not to score points with their preferred employer. Is that correct? From my experience with applicants and conversations with personnel decision-makers, it is less the grades themselves that matter, but how they are handled correctly. How you as an applicant with a long-term bachelor’s degree can really show weakness and not get a good job anyway, but even more.
Bad grades? – That’s it!
Many applicants ask me whether they shouldn’t enclose the bad report as an attachment to their application. They are ashamed and would like to hide this part of their life most. They hope that it will not be noticed and pray that they will not be asked about school, studies, or the missing documents in the interview.
In my opinion, this is the biggest mistake applicants make. Not only because an HR manager wonders why the certificate is missing and thus the research instinct is really aroused, but above all because secrecy is not a good basis for starting a trusting working relationship. This attitude makes you weak as an applicant, experienced employees in HR will notice it between the lines of your cover letter, at the latest during the interview you will not cut a good figure.
Especially for young professionals, because the certificate is even more relevant: Say what’s up! The grades are irreversible and, like every gap and alleged misstep in your resume, are part of your life. Perhaps you were terribly lazy through puberty and only had eyes for things other than math or Schiller’s bell. Perhaps you enjoyed your freedom from home during your studies, found yourself, or simply worked a lot to finance your studies. Perhaps during this time you also looked after relatives or already started a family – and therefore let your studies slip. Whatever led to it, it’s (your) story!
Accept the facts and don’t blame them for failing to get through as a candidate. To say what’s going on means for me not only to reveal the testimonies but also to address the obvious. Not as justification or guilt of the strict teachers or professors, but a factual, personal explanation.
If I ask about applicant coaching, there are often easily understandable and very human reasons why a certificate looks the way it is. Talking about exactly this in the job interview shows reflection, self-confidence and on top of that makes you really likable as a person with rough edges. Young applicants in particular who do so tell me afterward that the topic of grades played no role at all. The obvious becomes normal with this calm.
Application: Score with today’s personality instead of old grades
At this year’s Cologne Career Day, I also gave a lecture specially for trainees. When I looked at the audience I noticed a young man because he seemed extremely interested and was following me attentively. After a few minutes, he pointed up and asked a question. Listeners rarely dare to ask questions in large groups. I found that extraordinary and very self-confident, especially for a young person.
After the lecture, he came up to me and asked what was the impetus for this contribution: “But what to do if the grades are bad?” He has and was a secondary school graduate apparently no light in math. He is applying for positions in production or as a warehouse assistant. I do not doubt that he can lend a hand. I was met by a likable person who can express himself well, is motivated to look for a job, but has only received rejections so far.
I advised him to focus even more on his personality and his goals for the future and to maintain his honest attitude, not to hide bad grades, but to lovingly make it clear to potential employers that a production assistant will never calculate integrals again or curve discussions.
Young professionals with poor grades need the chance as applicants to get to know someone personally. Past those HR managers who only see “secondary school” and “math rivets”, put it in drawers and thus found a reason for the rejection. Job fairs like this one are great opportunities. Vitamin B from your own network or the personal introduction including a good old application folder at the medium-sized company around the corner can also lead to the goal in this case.
Honestly assess the relevance of the grades for the target position
The more work experience you gain and the further into the past of your schooling and apprenticeship, the less relevant the certificates from earlier become. In my opinion, they are always included as an attachment to a complete application.
Even if the emotions and memories of the past arise immediately, make yourself aware of how important the degree or what you have learned during this time actually is for your next position in the profession. Put everything in the right light in your head and then also in your application that you have gained in experience and knowledge since then and bring with you to the target position.
At that time, immediately after graduation, the four in general business administration and otherwise good or very good grades on the university’s diploma seemed like an eyesore. If I were to apply again today – 15 years later – as an employee, I am sure that every single grade would no longer be looked at, only the degree counts.
What applies to young applicants with little or no professional experience? Chances are you’re not applying to a bank’s risk management team with a five in math. And with three points in the Abitur in German performance, not as a lecturer or journalist. As an applicant, you actually know exactly what real knock-out criteria are for a job, and you don’t get the crazy idea of turning your greatest weakness into a job. For everything else, from my point of view, weaknesses are development potential!
Search specifically for employers who are more than just grades
What, in my opinion, is always important for a successful application process, applies all the more in the case of bad references: Take a targeted approach when looking for and selecting your next employer. Even if I generalize in the following and, of course, do not know every personnel selection process in German companies, I would like to make you aware that certain employers pay more attention to grades and qualifications than others and that you are concerned about where you are more likely well-received for the next job.
Yes, some employers can (still) afford to sort out incoming applications in the first go according to high school grades or points in the university certificate. The larger and more attractive the company as an employer and the more applications it receives, the greater the probability that you, as an applicant with poor grades, will automatically receive a rejection. It is a clear criterion to separate the wheat from the chaff and such companies run the risk of rejecting the uncut rough diamond among the competitions with bad grades.
It is difficult with bad grades – especially for bloody career starters – wherever specialist knowledge and learning skills are closely linked to the job description, such as in legal professions, consulting, or auditing. You will also find it difficult to get a position in science and research-related institutions if you have a poor degree in your subject. Likewise in the area of the public service or large non-profit organizations and wherever selection processes are regulated in a very standardized manner or are even officially linked to a minimum grade point average.
You tend to have good chances wherever personnel decision-makers or future bosses still take the time to deal more intensively with your application and so the probability is higher that they will not only sort out according to grades but also the other aspects Appreciate your résumé and cover letter. This tends to be more the case in small and medium-sized companies, i.e., medium-sized or even owner-managed employers, young or small companies with a start-up character, and wherever the shortage of skilled workers is noticeable in certain regions of Germany or certain industries today.
Show a clear edge as an applicant
In my opinion, clarity is the key to every successful application. This also applies to bad grades or below-average degrees. Own clarity about how important all of this is for your next step and clarity in the attitude and communication towards a potential new employer.
In working with applicants, I have found that the combination of clear communication and targeted search noticeably increases the invitation rate for interviews.
But in the end, your attitude and clarity must also suit you and your personality. Decide independently of the opinions of others – including me, what is a good way for you to deal with poor grades or degrees in your role as an applicant.
Because if you are aware of this, believe in yourself again, and can also appreciate what you have with you in addition to a testimonial as a motivated and good employee, then you will be able to show it to the outside world.