Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Aces Go Places

Okay, now I'm finally going to put pen on paper on something which is a tad sensitive. Plenty of you out there are not going to be too agreeable with my opinions. There will however, be some of you who think that I'm speaking what is just the simple plain fact.

While I'm a firm believer that you don't need to be a straight As student to do well in your life and career, Aces do take you places. There has been plenty of letters in the print media and online blogs on this topic already, but I thought I'd share my personal perspective.

I've already mentioned many times on this blog that I'm not a straight As student. My 'O' Level result was "tainted" by 2 B3s, while I actually had the audacity to get a 'C' for one of my 'A' Level subjects (ouch ouch ouch!). This declaration is so that you know that I'm not a proponent of As just because I'm personally a superstar student academically - I'm not.

First of all, let me give you a couple of pretty good reasons why Aces can take you places.

1. It definitely helps with the scholarships.

While I'd disagree with one of the letters that you'd need straight As to qualify for scholarships, nor do I agree that obtaining As is the sole determining criteria, the possession of a sufficient number of As do help significantly in the success of securing a scholarship.

I was quite nearly destined to pursue my tertiary education at National University of Singapore, for I was 1 A short of the normal qualifying mark to be shortlisted for interviews despite having secured a place at Oxford University. I got my scholarship in the end, but I can tell you that with that extra A in the pocket, the process would have been a whole lot easier, and I would have quite some additional options.

Oh, and needless to say, top grades help you get into the top universities. Whether justified or otherwise, I dare say that having graduated from Oxford helped me win two-thirds of the battle during job interviews already.

2. It is a necessity for certain professions.

Yes, unfortunately, if you want to pursue specialist courses like medicine to become doctors, top grades are absolutely required. If you did your very best, and yet don't come anywhere close to top grades especially when thousands are doing so in SPM and hundreds in STPM, then I strongly suggest that you seek another profession in which you might just shine brighter in. There is really sometimes not too much point in banging against brick walls, especially with your head.

3. It is a benchmark for top companies.

Whether you like it or not, applications to some of the top multinational companies such as Accenture, Procter & Gamble, Shell etc., requires you to state your performance at SPM level and above. Yes, you'd also find that some companies go even below that level. Hence the commonly induced statement that your SPM results no longer matter once you have obtained your degree is misleading at best.

Indeed, your SPM grades will be among the least of my concerns if I'm employing you as a product salesman (and a not too complicated product at that), but if you are going to act as a consultant at say, McKinsey's, I'll surely need you to have the brains for it.

There are good reasons why these top companies still insist on obtaining grades from your secondary school education. For one, SPM and STPM (or equivalent) examinations are probably the only standard markers of academic quality across the board for comparison purposes. With the exception of some of the branded top universities of the world, most people can't tell the difference between the quality of a graduate from say, Curtin University of Technology from say, University of Arizona or Staffordshire Unviersity. A more thorough examination (although not necessarily conclusive) is to review the performance of a student from secondary school to university.

For organisations like my own company, where I know I have limited abilities to attract the top students from say the Oxbridge or the Ivys (I try), I have to "work hard" to differentiate the rest of the crowd of applicants. Hence for positions such as programmers, it is absolutely useful to review the candidates secondary school performance in Mathematics as well as Additional Mathematics in SPM and STPM (where relevant).

You may argue that a person who did not perform that well for his or her SPM may "blossom" in university. I completely agree. But as an employer, I have time only to interview say 10-15 candidates, will I want to trawl my net so wide and go bottom fishing for the little gems or do I just want to focus on the pool of candidates that will most likely satisfy my requirements and fill my 3-4 vacant positions?

You may also argue that SPM as an examination is not perfect and may give biased results. From some of my earlier blog posts, you would know that I completely agree that the current examination system needs to be revamped. However, having said that, it is still the best available yardstick or proxy for me to measure the likely competency and intelligence of a candidate. It's almost like a probability test.

Some would also claim that the majority of employers out there do not give a hoot about grades from secondary education (or even for that matter, your degree subject performance). Yes, I'm not surprised that it is true. But like I said, if your ambition is to work for some of the world class multinational companies and the top local firms, then your grades do matter for it is viewed an approximate proxy to your intelligence - whether you like it or not.

I dare say that from experience, these rules in accessing the candidates academic credentials which I have developed over time in hiring fresh graduates have worked out really well for me. I have always emphasized that I'm a lazy employer - that means that after I hire a person, I want to have very little to do to "manage" the person. He or she should just be able to take care of him or herself, without me breathing down their necks. And I'm glad to say, that I have little need to do so.

Hence, contrary to some of the comments you see for some of my earlier post which derided the achievers of straight As, I actually think that achieving As can get your a little further in your career and life. Thanks also to readers like peer for speaking up for the As students. :)

Don't get me wrong. Scoring straight As (or a lot of them) for your SPM does not guarantee a good life. Your performance will have to be consistent throughout to your university education. Other factors such as the oft-highlighted communication skills, attitude and resourcefulness etc. etc., all comes into the picture.

At the same time, achieving plenty of As for examinations isn't everyone's cup of tea. While its important for some of the points mentioned above, it isn't for many other scenarios. For example, academic grades will be the most important (but not the only) criteria for me when hiring computer programmers. However, communication skills and resourcefulness etc., will definitely be more important for me if I'm hiring a sales person.

Not achieving the string of As also do not mean that you will not be able to achieve financial success. I know for a fact that if my sales director meets his sales target this year, he'll be the highest paid person in the company by far and he doesn't have a degree to his name. But note that I'd never for the life of me hire him as a say, project manager or consultant. OK, for that I'm going to get a clobbering from him when he reads this tomorrow morning - but you get my point. :)

I could go on with the rest of the post talking about why not scoring straight As (or a decent quantity of them) isn't the end of the world. But I shall not. The best place to read them is found on Tiara's blog on her excellent post "'A' is for Attitude". See also her article printed in the Star Education segment a couple of weeks back.

A quick summary - getting your As is important as it facilitates the process of going far with your life and career. However, it definitely isn't the only way to enjoy a successful life and career. What's important if for you to define your key objectives in life and set the necessary targets and milestones to help you achieve them. Achieving As will be important for some of these "objectives in life", but not as important for others. Whatever the case, plan and choose wisely. :)


Anonymous said...

When I was in college in the US, I was friends with some of the most brilliant people that today I still feel inferior to despite my success. Some of them maintained good grades but some of them did not even bother to attend class and exams. I can tell you that all those that maintained good grades achieved at least some modicum of good success. While quite a few that did not maintain good grads but unconventionally brilliant when on to be multi-millionaires and even billionaires I know at least a few that really did not achieve much because of their refusal to be mainstream. They were nevertheless happy as they always involved in interesting work. But only in America have I seen such incredibly stories, I have never met anyone outside of America including in Europe where I spent some time, achieved the same thing.

The verdict? Grades do matter everywhere but more so in our world.

Jerng said...

Boss, under the assumption that success is measured in money, there are various counterexamples to your rule in the so-called 'developing' world. But what about other axes of achievement such as the ability to be absolutely free from worldly concerns? What about the ability to achieve physical bliss at any moment, simply by thinking about it? This sort of achievement is off-the-radar in most sectors of society, but I do think that practitioners of funny enlightment & other arts have a much better deal than those businessmen who are constantly disatisfied with themselves, and their so-called futures. Some institutions of higher education expose their students to these possibilities. Probably, none of these are in Malaysia ;)

Anonymous said...

There are tough competitions everywhere. With good grades, your struggle is comparatively easier.

Good grades do lead you to good reputable places such as Shell, Intel, IBM, etc. Normally they have IQ tests, if you have good grades that means your IQ also not bad-lah!

You're in a big corporate, that is only the first leap. Inside the company, you are as common as the others, they are all top scorers. You have to struggle as hard to stand out, to become top of the tops. That's what competitions is about right? Not only to struggle to live, but to excel and stand out from the rest, I guess that's when satisfaction comes.

But what if you fail in your first career? Will you give up? In real life, some may give up.

Though there were people who can succeed financially without proper education, nowadays good education will be the key. Without education, you have to work triple hard unless your father is freaking rich.

But what the government should be aware of is the standards of the education system now. If there are too many straight A's on the street, then they becomes less in "value". This is because supply more than demand. The standards should be raised.

If the gov not doing anything, very soon, straigh A's will not matter anymore. Even now straight A's are not guaranteed scholarships.

Benkaiser said...

So am i doomed for a rougher ride in life to come after my graduation? because i have colourful (lousy) grades in O and A levels?

Hmm.... so im one of those whose resumes are going to the reject tray...

Too many As out there today isnt? What is the chance for me left? i think i better start lookin for financing to start a business to prove my As in life..

Anonymous said...

How valuable are your 'A's when there's no transparency in the marking system of the Malaysian education system (including private college exams)...?

Heard through the grapevine that A's are now worth 60+ marks.

So you can't tell the good students from the bad, as only the grades are given.

Have fun kids :)

Anonymous said...

Kids, don't just study day and night, play too. The A's is important, but health and a balanced life is even more important! Don't be a nerd!

september said...

I think i'm lost.
I thought the previous related post was about "illiterate undergraduates".
I thought the discussion was about the standard of undergraduates nowadays.
I thought it was about how important of 'A's but asking ppl not to forget about their standards.
I thought it was about neglecting of "critical thinking" among the youth.
I thought it was about malaysian UNI grads comparing to other countries'.
I thought it was about how undergrads could do with their qualifications after graduating from the Univ even with their "good" results.
I thought it was supposed to be, Universities, about which orientation is better. more 'A's? Better standard? or smarter, (in way to speak n think of their own,)? how to be a "succesful" person. what is succesful now?

what? no?