30 Jul 2015

Does a College GPA Matter in Sales?

Does College GPA Matter in Sales?

In Glassdoor’s Annual “Employee’s Choice Awards 2015” Google came out as the #1 Best Place to Work in the U.S for employers with 5,000+ employees. Because of this, Google finds itself in the driver’s seat when it comes to selecting who will work for them. Despite having their pick of talent, Google has done a very interesting thing with their selection criteria. Google has dropped a candidate’s college GPA and test scores as hiring criteria. Using analytics and big data they have tracked their employees’ performance to gain insight into what attributes correlate with on the job performance. Here is what they found:

“GPA’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless – no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there’s a slight correlation.”

In an interview with Adam Bryant of the NY Times, Google’s Senior VP for People Operations, Laszlo Bock explains: “… the skills you required in college are very different.”  “One of my own frustrations when I was in college and grad school is that you knew the professor was looking for a specific answer. You could figure that out, but it’s much more interesting to solve problems where there isn’t an obvious answer. You want people who like figuring out stuff where this is no obvious answer.” You can read the full interview here.

This is game changing interesting. I’ve seen several studies that show low-to-no correlation between GPAs and what a person earns post college but those studies are based on “average” situations. Google hires the best and the brightest and their playing field and level of competition is completely different from the “average”. Bringing this back to the world of B2B sales, GPAs are often a primary criteria for highly coveted and competitive medical and pharmaceutical positions.

My Takeaways Regarding College GPAs in Sales:

1. An interview process that includes College GPAs as a criteria is broken.

In short, companies that require a minimum college GPA, say a 3.0 or higher, are eliminating more than half of the available candidates. Since College GPAs does not correlate with career success; this employer has reduced its chances of interviewing the most talented sales reps by more than half. This WILL impact your hiring success given how hard it is to find candidates that Can Do the job, Will Do the job and Fit with your company (our video found on this page goes into detail).

2. Hiring based on high a GPA breeds elitism.

And what’s the danger with that? Along with elitism you’ll often (although not necessarily) find entitlement. In essence, a feeling of “I’ve arrived because I’m one of the few smart enough to get hired here.” In sales, the hard work starts after you get hired.

I’ve personally placed hundreds of sales professionals in my two decades of recruiting. It’s been my observation that my best placements have come from the “something to prove” and “willing to fail” camps. Personally, I would try very, very hard to squash any idea that an employee has “arrived” once they got hired. Instead, I would take a page out of my beloved Seahawks playbook – “Always compete.”

Applying the College GPA Lessons:

When hiring internally for Sales Talent we’ve never used a candidate’s college GPA as a hard, hiring criteria. With that noted, I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t impressed and influenced when a potential candidate had a strong college GPA. Going forward, I’ll know better.


Chris Carlson

President and founder of Sales Talent Inc, a B2B sales recruiting firm. We place sales reps, sales engineers and sales leaders across North America. Employers can inquire about our sales recruiting services. Candidates can view our current sales openings.