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The Undergraduate: Why grade-A grads often make awful bankers

As I immerse myself deeply in the midst of my graduate job hunt with financial institutions, I realise that one criterion they commonly list is: “We look for individuals who like challenges.”

A’s above everything else

Yet, if I look around me, I see peers choosing classes on the basis of how easy it is to score an A+ in a particular module. This can’t be helped because more often than not, a near-perfect grade point average (GPA) on a resume always screams “pick me!”. This begs the question: what is the value of tertiary education? Do we go to university with the aim of pursuing knowledge – taking classes to fill in the gaps in our abilities – or merely to get good grades? Perhaps we should now step back and think about this issue.

A tale of two students

At one end of the spectrum are individuals who recognise their own weaknesses and choose professors who are difficult, in a bid to improve their conceptual knowledge. Yet this often produces less-than-stellar grades, which reduces their GPA. On the other side of the fence are students who recognise their weaknesses and lean towards ‘easy’ professors to avoid exposing their Achilles heel and to continually secure their As. At the end of the day, a higher GPA always holds greater value, ceteris paribus (other things being equal).

Easy-A graduates will crash and burn at your firm

Is the prestigious finance industry doing itself an injustice by picking these ‘stellar’ students? This often creates an HR nightmare of recruiting the wrong person to the job. If firms are hiring graduates who shy away from challenges and are accustomed to picking the easier way out, then it’s very possible that they may replicate such behaviour at work. In times of crisis and challenges, these people are ill-equipped to take the bull by its horns and are more likely to end up looking like a bull in a china shop. Food for thought for employers: match the right people, not the right GPA, to the job. While this might make hiring a more drawn-out process, with the right recruits, it would most definitely contribute to the longevity of the firm.

The author is a final-year finance undergraduate.

Comments (14)

  1. So, on what basis are you making ur judgment that A-Grade students make bad bankers?? It’s a pretty broad generalization.

    Although I understand ur argument- especially since I was on the side that took the difficult courses for the challenge and learning opportunity it presented (though admittedly it did hurt my GPA).

    Nonetheless, in this market, getting a graduate level banking is all the more difficult.

  2. “In times of crisis and challenges, these people are ill-equipped to take the bull by its horns” Ha ha, what do you expect? As we have seen, and will continue to see again and again, when things turn bad, those “stellar” or “talented” bankers turn to governments for an easy bailout.

  3. your grades must be real bad. the grapes are darn sour.

  4. No worries. Hiring manager will not just focus on GPA. Also they are not looking for ones who can perform well without challenges or ones who perform badly under challenges. They are looking for ones who can perform well with challenges and would like candidates to share how they can overcome challenges and perform well eventually.

  5. What a joke.

    There is another more likely explanation for students with bad GPAs. These guys are not smart enough, too lazy to work for good grade for the module he or she had picked, or is just not aware of the value of a good GPA.

    In any case, a good GPA only gets you an interview. Performing well in the interviews and convincing the hiring managers will require other skillsets.

    At the end of the day, this is a society with information assymetry and people have to realise that recruiting managers have to base their perceptions and assessment on certain metrics. If people realise that is happening but refuses to work towards satisfying those criterions, then….

    Worse than generalization Reply
  6. Let me dissect your argument:
    1) Basis for lower GPA:
    – purely because the subject somehow chose tougher professors
    Reasons for not hiring A-grade students:
    – they cannot take challenges well
    – if you’re good enough to take on challenges, wouldn’t you have aced the challenge of a tougher professor, aced the challenge of mastering the module?
    – what is your sample size? if you’re from a single university, single degree cohort, then I must say it is an inadequate representation of the entire 2012 job hunting batch.

    2) Call to action for recruiters not to hire A-grade students:
    – they are unable to take on challenges because they preferred easier modules in school
    – is your definition of challenges only based on easy modules? how about real-work life challenges which require instant response and not the slow and sedate pace of schooling. does taking easy or tough modules provide a justification for that?

    Sorry but your article is very flawed, and a seasoned interviewer even at non-banks would just pick you apart.

  7. I’m not too sure how the author of this article felt but for me, a certificate is only a “Passport” to get you into a start, regardless it’s a job in a stat board or private sector.

    In the government sector, they look at where your cert came from, your GPA, honors degree or not. It’s all about the score on that piece of paper.

    In the private sector, the interviewer will take a look at your application form, then just dump it 1 side and asked the interviewer “Now tell me about your experience and how you think what you possess could contribute to the company”!

    So can the author tell me from here, is academic results that IMPORTANT?? I’m just going to put it bluntly. If you are not born to be a trader, no matter what your score is or even the degree is from Harvard, you are just not going to make it in the trading floor. You don’t learn how to work/trade/execute from books, you learn it in the real environment. You have to be in there over a period of time to absorb the experience.

    Saying all these, I’m the Head of I.T. in an international bank, just in case you questioned where I’m coming from.

  8. This is probably the most ridiculous thing I’ve read. Most companies know where they are recruiting from and know the course-load. They know that a high GPA in Finance from a school with a bad finance department means nothing.

    Good grades may not be a predictor of much, but it does show that the candidate can focus and is results oriented. If you don’t want someone to focus on your grades, go be an artist. Otherwise, bankers care about grades.

  9. I find it absolutely appalling how such an article even got featured on eFC.

    Your grapes cannot get any more sour than that.

  10. Agreed. The argument is flawed. I thought this was written by someone in the industry already.

  11. Your argument is very flawed.

    You are assuming that students with good GPAs get As only because they pick easy modules. I’m sure there are students that pick challenging modules, and still get As.

    Anyway, I was a student once, and I don’t think “easy” modules exist. Sure, there are professors who are known to be hard graders, and professors who are nicer. But if a certain module is known to be easy, anyone who is smart naturally gravitates towards it, and you end up having to compete with more smart people. Hello, bell curve?

    Smart people just get As, regardless of what class it is. People with lousy GPAs have no excuse.

  12. This article stinks.

  13. Ok I am in the industry and I see some merit in this article. Bad professors do give bad grades particularly if you can prove that you are smarter than them. In my experience of facing 30 professors in four different universities: two professors failed one in math where I had scored 800 in GRE with 99%ile (now a days you get 800 with only 92 %tile), my peers too had considered me the smartest person in math, but according to my professor who used to make many mistakes in the classroom often me correcting in front of the whole class, I was just not good in math, 5 gave me C-, 10 gave me Bs and rest A’s. So in one university my GPA was 3.85, in another 3.44 and in 1 I was deprived of my intended degree. I am now a CFA level III candidate and am sure of getting charter next years. Since you are a finance major, take CFA and if you pass even Level I, you will be considered smarter than many of your peers because CFA is considered the benchmark and it has notoriously high failure rate (65% on an average at Level I, 55% at level II and 50% at level III). Thus to earn the charter only 8% pass. So passing at level I, you prove that you are in the smartest 35% of finance undergrads

  14. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he had the worst grades, but he runs a 500 mln hedge fund. Or maybe he just seeks attention, or he’s just doing a Report project.

    If you have an Ivy League banker vs a street smart know-how guy, I think they each have their own abilities. Personally I think an A grader will likely beat those other guys, as long he is good at both EQ/IQ.

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