Good recruiters should look at exam performance in context

Do the same grades at different schools represent the same achievement?

Most employers would probably agree that the answer is “no.”

I have no complaints about my career so far. Except perhaps for a scary six-month period, a couple of years after I left university, when I decided to get serious about finding work. I fired off a string of job applications but failed to get a single reply, let alone any invitations to interviews.

I don’t think my failure can be attributed to unrealistic expectations. My CV described a kid with decent GCSEs and A Levels, a 2:1 degree from Oxford University, and lots of media-related experience, including a production credit on a major TV documentary series. If a recruiter had decided to meet me, they’d have discovered that my inner city, state school background had left me with communication and rapport-building skills far beyond what most posh kids of that age could muster. What’s more, I was only shooting for PR and marketing jobs in the £18-£25K bracket; it’s not like I was applying to become an astronaut.

In the end, the folks at the BBC came to my rescue. They gave me a shot at a formal panel interview — the only one of my career. I did well and I embarked on a journey that eventually led me to become a TV news reporter for BBC World. (An extremely fun and rewarding job, which only came to an end once I started a family, stopped travelling and decided to work from home.)

Part of me still wonders whether the BBC chose to interview me because of my not-entirely-English ethnicity. The Beeb is a publicly funded organisation after all, and it took diversity more seriously than the private sector did in those days. So maybe I got in unfairly, because of something I inherited rather than something I accomplished, but I really don’t know for certain. Equally, I can’t be sure whether all my failed job applications went unanswered because of my Arabic name.  (Research studies have persistently shown that such a name is a big hindrance for job applicants in the UK, and particularly male ones.)

Wherever the truth lies, the upshot is that I still feel like the early breaks in my life were random. I don’t think that any CV-scanning HR person paid much attention to what I had really achieved or where I had come from. My opportunities originated in good luck rather than good recruitment processes. And if I was lucky, how many like me were unlucky?

It shouldn’t be like that.

That’s why I’m a founding investor of a startup called Performance in Context (PiC). What PiC does, using big data combined with an extremely small and simple interface, is truly astounding. It allows recruiters to rapidly weigh up first-stage job applicants based not only on their raw exam results, but also based on the context of educational and socioeconomic advantage or disadvantage in which those results were achieved.

This technology has the power to do a lot of good, and I’m proud to be part of it.

Find out more at PiC’s website.



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