This is the first in the series Top career questions asked by students: questions collected from you, actual students, for our panel at the Careers in Focus event in August.

The answer is: It depends. Sorry, that’s probably not want you want to hear. It’s just that there are a lot of variables to finding work, from your employability to what influences your career decisions.

We know some things about what employers want from graduates in terms of employability factors. We surveyed employers to identify the top ten skills and attributes employers look for in new graduates and students. If you want to get to grips with that research, visit our Grumpy Cat blog. You will note that Work Ethic, Verbal Communication and Problem Solving are the top three. And yes, grades can definitely be an indicator of work ethic but so can work experience, volunteering and other extracurricular activities.

Where you are applying for an advertised vacancy or graduate programme, and where you can be sure there will be a large number of high-calibre applicants, it stands to reason that grades will come into the screening process for shortlisting. However, good grades on their own, without showing you have a life outside study would probably leave your employability factors looking a bit underdeveloped. Ask a Manager offers a challenge to the long-held belief that employers shortlist solely on grades. But proceed with some degree of caution if you are in the more traditional, professional areas of study: “In most fields [good grades] are more of a bonus than a requirement, although…there are some fields where it is more of a requirement than a bonus”.

It can be argued that even the more elite fields are changing. There is the recent UK example of major graduate recruiter, EY dropping its degree classification threshold for graduate recruitment, i.e. the requirement that graduates have the equivalent to our Second Class Honours degree. They have found “no evidence” that success at university correlated with achievement in professional qualifications. Instead, EY intend to use numerical tests and online “strength” assessments to assess the potential of applicants. This could address some systemic barriers from a socio-economic and cultural perspective as large companies tended to recruit mainly from research-intensive universities, where students were “on average more likely to have enjoyed educational and economic advantages compared to many students educated elsewhere”. Let’s watch that space.

If qualifications are going to be less of a prerequisite to being considered by recruiters, you may ask, can I stick with my “C’s get degrees” approach? Maybe, but you will find there are a million reasons to take on a tertiary qualification and to strive for good grades; all centered around learning outcomes for you as an individual and as a member of society. On a practical level, good grades will mean you can proceed more directly to postgraduate study without having to do any kind of bridging qualification. It may also mean that you can undertake further postgraduate study with the help of scholarships. In turn, the postgraduate qualification may be the one that enables you to be more effective in policy analysis, research, engineering, and tech or leadership roles.

On the other hand, we repeatedly come across amazing, high-achieving graduates with colourful life stories, doing the work they love, who admit they have patchy academic records. This is especially true for those first few years of study before they found what really ‘lit their candle’. But just as important, they all eventually found a niche, academic or professionally- or both, where they found success on their own terms. It is good to know there is always a plan – including ways to do postgraduate study that may not be the direct route, or ways to market yourself to employers. The best place to start if you think your grades are going to hamper your progress is to get some course planning or career advice.

Next question in the series Top career questions asked by students:

If you had no experience in your field when you left uni, how do you set yourself apart from people that did?

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Career advice, Motivation, Opinion, Study, Trends and statistics

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