ben.eficium is the blog of Ben Slack, citizen and principal consultant at Systems Xpert.
All posts are Copyright © Ben Slack on the date of publishing.

08 August 2014

I never hire the university medalist

I've hired a lot of business analysts and developers over the years and one thing I've learned is the university medalist or academic high achiever is almost never the right person for the job. An aptitude for academic excellence primarily means that someone is very talented at completing university courses. The degree to which this talent indicates an excellent worker is not as clear as most people think.

Almost every time I have hired an academic high achiever (I'm talking distinction+ average marks), that person has proved disappointing and I think I know the reason why.

A lot of people who earn those marks do it through the kind of time consuming rote learning perseverance that is not desirable or sustainable in full-time employment. A lot of these kids were doing assignments on Friday and Saturday night after having studied for 55 hours during the week. Sure, sometimes corporate work requires these kinds of hours but everyone knows it is not sustainable week-in-week-out. Someone who required that kind of time to get those marks is not going to deliver the same quality in the time available for corporate work.

What you really want is the girl who cruised through the course with as little study as possible, read the textbook a couple of days before the exam and walked away with a credit to distinction average having put in about 20% of the work of the university medalist. That's the person who's going to deliver good consistent work in the kind of turn-around modern business requires. The kind of mind who will find the easiest way of achieving a goal. And they're not going to burn out after 2 or 3 years.

There is always the chance that a high achiever is an exceptionally talented "cruiser". So you have to develop the interview questions and testing that identify quick original thinking. But you should be doing this anyway. My advice - don't look at or ask for an academic transcript and don't assume a good student makes for a good worker.