Does school grade matter for career or job?


















THERE is evidence from neuroscience that reptilian part of the human brain (a part where we learn that is located in the centre of our brain) shuts down when threatened. “Punishment” is considered to be a “threat” – “encouragement” as a “reinforcement.”

The unfortunate reality is that our entire social and education systems are designed to be grade based (IQ). We believe that high IQ level people are intelligent. But I believe application of intelligence is “smartness.” We may be born intelligent but we are not born smart. We learn to be smart.

My father was an army officer and a strict disciplinarian. He taught us discipline, good values of life and how to become a good human being. When I was in school, I was very scared of him due to his teaching style. I was smacked and yelled at for every mistake I made. This seemed to be a normal culture and acceptable traditional practice of teaching children in India. Though his intentions were genuine in making me an intelligent / smart student, his style was brutal. His teaching method, approach and style had set a deep fear in my mind. I used to tremble in fear whenever he sat me down for teaching.  My mind used to shut down out of fear and then nothing penetrated through.

In fact, I used to go blank with fear. I knew for certain that soon I was going to be smacked. In fact, I used to wait for his yelling and then the smacking. I had recognized that once I was smacked, I would be asked to leave. Getting smacked had become a routine for me and also my escape tactic. The funny part was that neither my father nor I changed. He did his part and I did mine – leave and escape learning / studying. I had become immune to smacking. I ended up hating studies.

Now when I look back, in my mind I had convinced myself of being “stupid” as I was repeatedly addressed that way. As a result, I remained as a mediocre student. But, for some reasons, I had taken a vow that I will prove myself and reach professional heights and prove wrong the people who thought I was stupid. I pursued my dreams quietly in my heart without challenging anyone.

In the process of my journey to find a successful career, I realized that getting higher grades was not the only factor of success in life. There were many other factors that influenced success. Since I had categorized myself “stupid” early in my childhood, the fear of failure had deepened in me and continued until the later part of life. Any type of examination evoked big fear in me. I remember during my final exam for my Bachelor’s degree, I had totally blanked out and my mind shut down. With the support and encouragement by a professor, I regained my confidence that helped me write my exam. I had realized then I needed to do something different.

Obtaining higher grades appeared like a monster to me. Competing with intelligent students was out of question. My focus was to find an alternative to become successful without getting a good grade. But our social system and education system was not designed that way. I decided to catch up in other areas where most of the intelligent students did not appreciate spending their time. I spent my time in all-round development in learning facts of life, personality development, public speaking, sports, drama, music, etc. In this hunt, I learnt real life skills of being a good human being, developing social relationships, respect and approach, adaptability, fighting with the reality of life and above all appreciating everything I had.

As a professor today, when I see my students in the universities, I still see the same gap between intelligence and real life skills. Only being intelligent does not allow success in life. One needs to be practical, realistic and adaptable to the situation.

I would like to say grades are only the scale of measurement that differentiates the level of understanding of knowledge but is subjected to various unpredictable factors. It may act as a “criteria” for an entry point but in no way an exclusive ladder to success. Your higher grades may give you an entry to an organization but most importantly how you implement or practice your intelligence is the key.

As a seasoned HR professional, while hiring employees, numerous times I have compromised on qualification (grades) and experience but not on the attitude of an incumbent. I have hired people with a good attitude over good grades. Attitude is not trainable, skills are. Therefore, I suggest to all young students, focus more on learning real life skills (soft skills – being understanding and adaptable, supportive and appreciative; approach – language, working together – team; respect – behaviour, trust etc.) Employers are looking to hire those who can work in teams, be humble rather than snobbish, rude and self-centered.

I would prefer to be “smart” than “intelligent.”


Anand Kishore earned his MBA with majors in Human Resources Management and Industrial Relations. He has worked at senior levels as HR professional and trainer in India, UAE, Oman and Canada with large multinational companies for over 30 years. He is also a Certified Career Practitioner in Canada and has obtained a certificate in Human Resources Management from BCIT. For over 12 years now, he has been teaching business courses in the University of Fraser Valley and BCIT.