Book smart, life smart: what employers want

Tuesday March 13 2018

You need to be smart in class, but you should

You need to be smart in class, but you should also learn the ways of life and how to be competent in a work setting. PHOTO | FILE 

By Peter Muthamia

So you attained all A’s at the university and a great GPA to crown it - you did awesomely, right? This maybe not true when you find yourself strung with a job in which you cannot make heads or tails of.

If you got a chain of A’s in the units covered at college, your GPA is amazing, and prospective employers will be falling over themselves to employ you the day you set your foot at the interview panel. Wrong!

Attainment of good GPA is in itself not a mean feat – it is a great accomplishment and a sign of a few great qualities such as hard work, dedication and commitment to academic success.

The trouble begins the moment you find yourself doing a job you are not cut for, and possibly unable to learn your ropes as fast as you are expected to. You might sometimes find yourself performing poorer than those who graduated with lesser grades. The result is that you become deluded.

Aspiration of every student in college or university is to perform way above the rest of the class in their studies, and secure a well-paying job in a blue chip company. They envision themselves sitting snuggly and enjoying the fruits of their labour earned in many years of toiling and moiling at college.

Conversely, as blue chip companies hunt for talent and abilities, good college GPA is an alluring prerequisite for them to hire someone. Put otherwise, job applicants’ grades seem a reasonable predictor for effective job performance – a high GPA signals that the individual has considerable degree of competence. However, cases of such high value students underperforming at their place of work are rampant and bring to fore the question whether GPA alone can be a reliable predictor of performance at work.

The universities equip students with requisite skills but cannot go into the nitty gritty of training according to Dr Joviter Katabaro, a senior lecturer at University of Dar es Salaam, school of education.

University and college lessons are highly structured and lecturers stress a select few skills that are often irrelevant to jobs. Therefore, hiring based on GPA is like hiring based on a few competencies only, which will not lead to a well-rounded knowledge at the place of work. Most lecturers and professors have never worked “on the ground” in the areas they teach.

“Usually, there is a big mismatch between employer skill expectations and the training offered at the university levels. It is impossible for the universities to provide on-the-job skills to all students because work environments differ greatly. Instead, the employers must understand that they need to train in details their new employees.

Indeed, university graduates can fit in most careers with additional training. When students join the university, they are expected to have acquired basic skills in things like CV and letter writing. Employers must also be ready to offer practical skills to students,” he said.


Looking for more than glossy GPAs

High GPA says nothing as to one’s creativity, adaptability, good judgement, critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills, high initiative, being a good team player, and more, that will be even more relevant in the workforce. These are psychometric parameters. Aika Massawe, a Human Resource Manager says that although a combination of a book smart and life smart employee is rare, it is always the winning combination that employers are always in the lookout for.

“It all boils down to work expectations of the prospective employee. Anyone who has had to fight to succeed in life stands a better chance than those who have been spoon-fed to get somewhere including work. They are more likely to take life and their work more seriously. Again, it depends more on recruitment process – the best recruitment take into account psychometric tools that are competence based. The college environment is often very different from work environment and lessons at college and university generally don’t envisage the work dynamics that can occur on a daily basis,” she said.

According to Ella Naiman, the Head of Training at Empower Ltd, training and recruitment Agency, prospective graduate employees leave college with little practical knowledge of work. They could raise their ante at work either through internship or attachment while at college.

“It is quite common for graduates to have little or no practical work experience once they have graduated. Those that have gained experience either through volunteering or internships stand a better chance at seeking employment opportunities and are more likely to be considered by potential employers because they have a better understanding of the workplace environment,” she said. From this writer’s experience, most of the lectures who taught journalism at the university he attended have never been published journalists.

Much of the stuff taught was all theoretical and little practical. At the university levels, students are trained to give specific answers, but in the real world, the practicability, critical thinking and solving of problems that have no obvious answer is what jobs entail. 

She alludes that while other prerequisite parameters for assessment of employment do exist, student’s GPA still remain a “foot in the door” for shortlisting prospective employees.

“It is my belief that these days your GPA serves more as a “foot in the door” or a means to be shortlisted for a particular role, so it is important to have a good GPA as it demonstrates intelligence and commitment to your education. However when an employer is interviewing viable candidates they must look for other soft skills such as commercial acumen (particularly in the private sector) the ability to communicate and express yourself well, the ability to think critically, for example ask good questions, the ability to present themselves well and whether an individual’s personal brand aligns to the brand of the organization,” she added.

She advises graduates to spend more time conducting background research and align their thoughts to what duties to expect if employed. 

“It is advised that entry level graduates attending interviews spend more time conducting background research on companies and preparing intelligent questions that align themselves to the organizations stand a better chance at employment. We need to be more knowledgeable and more adaptable in order to gain opportunities – this applies to everyone at all levels, not just graduates but I would say it is an every tougher playing field for graduates,” she adds.

Ms Naiman further says that the university curriculums must be aligned with the work in order to fit in the job market. As experts in talent acquisition, she argues that talent is not an impediment.

“Occasionally, we hear from employing companies murmurs about lack of talent in the market but as recruiters and trainers, we see a lot of talent across the country. Companies decry lack of experience in most graduates but are looking for people to demonstrate proactivity in gaining practical experience in volunteering and unpaid internships. It is one thing to have theoretical knowledge but practical experience is key to differentiating oneself in our labour market.