To Whom It May Concern:
How to not let biases about your GPA, major, university ranking, or background sink your candidacy
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How to not let biases about your GPA, major, university ranking, or background sink your candidacy

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Suited
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Each recruiting cycle, promising students are often eliminated purely because of ingrained biases about what qualifications candidates should possess, resulting in alarmingly uniform classes of new hires.

Fortunately, there is a growing consensus that additional information must be considered when evaluating a candidate's qualifications. We believe the onus should be on those in hiring positions to consciously create a more open and accepting environment for all applicants, particularly with respect to ensuring ethnic, racial, and gender equality. While we don’t believe it should fall on the candidate to maneuver around these potential illegal biases, there are tactics you can employ to prevent other lawful, and unfortunately prevalent, biases found in the hiring process.

Below, we try to get inside the mind of a recruiter to address four assumptions they might make about your candidacy based on your GPA, major, university ranking, and background. Keep in mind that many of these biases are simply tools that we all use to deal with lots of complex information; the fact that a recruiter may show these biases doesn’t necessarily mean that they aren’t doing their job or they are trying to keep you from getting one.

Read on to learn how to successfully navigate the interview and prevent these biases from sinking your chances.

GPA

“This candidate has a GPA that is below 3.5. There’s no reason to hire her over one of the other candidates with a more impressive academic record.”

GPA is typically interpreted as a measure of achievement, or more specifically, an estimate of intelligence. Interviewers may use this as a quick way to evaluate if a candidate is smart enough for the job. Often, GPA is considered to be a relatively standard indicator of achievement across universities and majors. However, the reliability of GPA as a metric of success may be impacted by university rigor, different grading policies and inflation curves, course load difficulty, and changing university standards.

In your cover letter or in an interview setting, it’s best not to debate the merits of GPA as a measure of intelligence. Instead be ready to initiate a conversation about your other specific achievements that demonstrate intelligence (coursework and workload, clubs, study abroad, honors, etc.). If you are lacking there, focus on specific relevant technical skills demonstrated in other settings.

If an interviewer brings up your GPA directly, you should face the question head-on and be honest about what caused your grade average to slump — did you take a particularly challenging class because it seemed interesting or were you working a full-time job that impacted your ability to study? By speaking openly about what happened and emphasizing anything you did to address the problem, you can spin a less-than-stellar GPA as a demonstration of your maturity, work ethic, and resilience.

Through the development of our Suited assessment, we have seen trends that indicate academics as a whole are four to six times less predictive of your long-term success compared to other attributes we measure. Typically, GPA constitutes less than 0-5% of the Suited prediction provided to our partner firms. So, if you are interviewing with any of our listed partners, know that they already have been persuaded, in some way, that GPA is not as indicative of performance on the job as other, more critical characteristics measured by our assessment.

Major

"If this candidate was really passionate about our field, they would have picked a more applicable major.”

A candidate’s focus of study is an easy way for recruiters to gauge a candidate’s interest in a field and can indicate the degree to which a candidate may have learned relevant technical skills during their academic career.

Obviously, you should not be interviewing for a job that requires technical skills if you do not possess any of those technical skills (unless the possibility or requirement of training is explicitly mentioned in the job description). For example, in investment banking, all entry-level applicants are eventually tested on a few finance-related competencies. These include things like basic accounting (do you know how an income statement, balance sheet, and cash flow statement work together?), financial mechanics (do you understand debt and equity structures?), valuation principles (how do DCFs, LBOs, and discount rates work?), among other technical skills. Many, but not all, of these competencies are not taught in undergraduate business classes and candidates are expected to be self-taught, especially if they did not attend a “target” university. So the question begs to be asked: if business students are learning these things on their own, why couldn’t a philosophy or statistics major? Make it clear you have done the work to grasp all of the necessary concepts and be ready to demonstrate them.

If applicable, you should also spend some time talking about how your major is similar to those found more commonly in the field, or how your studies or skills you’ve developed relate to the position. For example, liberal arts degrees have a reputation for building critical thinking, research, and writing skills which may prove equally critical to your career as technical knowledge.

Whether you are trying to move your future in a totally new direction or your major is tangential, talk about how you’ve prepared for this opportunity in very specific terms. If you are interviewing for your first investment banking analyst job, be able to talk about how you are fit for “an analyst at X company” and not just “a job in investment banking”.

Overall, interviewers want to hire well-rounded, passionate, thoughtful people. In any career, it’s much more typical to have a circuitous path versus one that is straight and narrow. Interviewers want to know what drives you and want to see that you have thoughtfully navigated the opportunities that you have been presented. Just be genuine and open with what brought you to this point.

School Ranking

“I have another candidate who went to a more highly ranked school. Why would I hire someone who did not attend an Ivy over someone who did?”

Interviewers are also likely to use another single point of information to help make a quick determination about your potential: school reputation.

While this bias is unlikely to be raised directly in an interview, if you attended a lesser-known school, you can take the opportunity to address it head on in a cover letter or at the right moment in an interview. Because school ranking is used by interviewers purely as a proxy for your intellectual ability and an estimation of the rigor of what you have learned, try to address both points in other ways: highlight any achievements that might indicate how smart and capable you are, and if it comes up in an interview, emphasize all of the work you have done to prepare for the technical requirements of the job.

Further, if there is a reason you chose to attend your school that you think might be helpful for the interviewer to understand, such as a scholarship or athletic recruitment, make sure you find a moment to relay that context.

Do some research as to what makes your university unique and worthy of consideration in comparison to more “prestigious” universities. Does your school have a surprisingly impressive acceptance or graduation rate? You should also research notable alumni both in and outside of the field you are trying to break into.  

Background

"This candidate is not relatable. No one else at this firm comes from this background.”

It is human nature to prefer things we are comfortable and familiar with, which is why so many people are hired through referrals. However, it has been found that diverse groups not only outperform homogeneous groups due to the introduction of new ideas, but also because diversity can trigger more careful information processing that is not present in groups that all look, think, and act alike.

If you have a unique background that differs from the majority, you can use the insights you’ve gained from your experiences to demonstrate how your differences would actually improve the firm. Emphasize this as it will help you stand out in the interview process. A unique perspective at the table is incredibly valuable, and most interviewers will appreciate what makes you unique if you spell out how it will allow you to add value.

In either case, it’s important to connect with the interviewer on a personal level in order to show that there are some similarities between your life and theirs. Find something you have in common and attempt to connect on some level. Be sure to know something about the firm beyond the job, like the founder’s story, the mission, and values of the company, so you can talk about how you, as a person, are a good fit. In the end, most people want to work with others that share the same values as them, and this is your chance to demonstrate what exactly yours are.

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