Recently, I was speaking to a class of sophomores to recruit them to join our risk management and insurance (RMI) program at East Carolina University. During the question and answer portion of the presentation, a young man asked me if his grade point average (GPA) mattered much.
Very few employers I deal with still have hard and fast rules about GPA. They've come to realize that not everyone with talent is an A-student. Whenever I am asked about this, I am reminded of a lovely young lady I taught many years ago.
Sandra was a very sweet person, but her grades just weren't very good. And, as it turned out, that was because of dyslexia. Yes, she was entitled to disability accommodation for that, but she refused it. She wanted the grades she earned to be hers without any special treatment. She worked very hard for those grades!
I wrote a letter of support for her that commended her on her strengths. And, in spite of mediocre grades, her hard work paid off. She went on to be awarded a scholarship by one of the local professional associations and to have a very successful career with a very respected insurer.
And then there was Steve. Steve was fully self-supporting, working his way through school. Trying very hard to break out of a poverty situation, he worked nights loading packages for a delivery service. He would show up to class exhausted, and he would doze off periodically as a result. But he cared enough to show up and to work as hard as he physically and mentally could. He did not make stellar grades, but now he owns a very successful insurance agency.
GPA and Correlation with Success
In my career, I have seen no reliable correlation between GPA and career success. I've had 4.0 students who had serious challenges to overcome, and I've also had 2.0 students go on to have very successful careers. The bottom line is that college costs are high, and they're going to keep getting higher, and many students out there are fully or partially self-supporting. They are trying to avoid loans, too, so they sometimes work two or three jobs outside of school. Some of them are young parents, trying to raise children while also working and going to school. In other words, sometimes there are very good reasons for less-than-stellar grades.
Look Past GPA; Look at References
If you are thinking of hiring an RMI student, I encourage you to look past GPA and focus more on involvement in things like summer internship programs and extracurriculars, especially involvement with Gamma Iota Sigma (the national RMI professional fraternity).
Also, look at faculty recommendations and support letters. Those matter because we know those students, and we're not going to endorse them if we don't really believe in their abilities.
I went on to tell the young man that while I personally didn't believe grades mattered that much, to me, there were two things I could not fix or excuse: laziness and dishonesty. I can enthusiastically write a recommendation letter for a 2.5 GPA student who has good reasons for low grades, such as a documented disability or a tough work schedule. I won't write one under any circumstances for a student who has demonstrated a lack of integrity. As I went on to tell him, "Insurance is a promise that people rely on. If you lack integrity, then people cannot trust you, and there is simply no place for you in this business."
In very recent years, I taught just such a person. Lazy, always cutting corners, ignoring rules and instructions, and, at best, "gilding the lily" on a pretty regular basis. (Some call it lying, but I'm trying to be nice here.) I simply could not and would not serve as a reference for him, and he knew that. (I'm pleased to say that he was and is the exception and not the rule. In 30 years of being in the RMI field, I have had very few like that.)
What he did not understand is that employers in our field are pretty savvy when it comes to reading between the lines. The fact that he listed none of his professors in the RMI program as a reference was a powerful signal to prospective employers that something was wrong. I encourage you when doing your due diligence in hiring that you find out who the professors are in the RMI program to see if at least one of them is listed as a reference. Then, check those references. I cannot tell you how many times employers hire college students without checking references or confirming the actual awarding of a degree! That can have disastrous results, as I've discussed in a previous IRMI.com commentary.
Please feel free to contact me with questions you'd like to see answered in future columns. I can be reached at [email protected].
Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.