GPA is Useless

My college counselor told me this: "Your application (resume and essay) is most important - probably 50% of what you will be evaluated on. 25% of the decision is based on SAT score, and 25% will be based on GPA." 

A friend working for a competitive investment bank told me this: "We don't read the resume or application if the GPA is below 3.5."

I cannot believe that GPA holds so much weight. It communicates such a small piece of information. And it is so often misleading. 

It doesn't take into account that Some Classes are harder than others. If two Econ majors may have the same GPA, one may have supplemented the major with courses in math and english. Another may have taken all other classes in underwater basket weaving? Even if you think these two students are equally impressive, they are certainly quite different - this is not reflected in GPA. 

GPA doesn't take into account that Some teachers are harder than others. 

Beyond that, GPA favors those who are risk adverse. Some People Suck at things... and do them anyway - I took spanish for 14 years. Spanish was consistently my worst grade, yet I stuck it out because I wanted to get fluent. Last year I studied abroad in Argentina and realized this dream. My GPA suffered tremendously in the process. 

Finally, GPA Doesn't Capture Trends or show Growth:  Take, for example, the three students below. They took the same classes, at the same school, in the same major. And all earned a 3.5 GPA. Their GPAs over time are here:


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The three students all have the same GPA. On a resume, these students look identical. But they aren't.   

Student 1 is a high achieving student. But she appears to do badly in the fall - maybe this is due to a fall sport or time commitment. 

Student 2 started out earning grades below a B average. However he appears to have grown over 4 years and is now earning straight As.  

Student 3 looks to have gotten a bit lazy, or overextended herself sophomore and junior year. 

The Bottom Line:  

To employers: GPA holds a lot more weight than it should. Ask for a full transcript - not  GPA. By placing so much weight on GPA you are not selecting the best candidates. You are discriminating against risk takers and those who push their personal limits. 

To Students: Take classes that are interesting to you. Challenge yourself. Get shitty grades if you need to. Then be able to explain why. 

"GPA: 3.5"

This tells you nothing  

GPA: 3.5 - Upward Trend 
Econ - 10 classes: 3.5 GPA
Span - 6 classes: 3.0 GPA
Writing Intensive - 5 classes: GPA 3.8 
History - 4 classes: GPA 3.2

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 2.49.47 AM.png

This tells you more.


Well Said

I've gotten some pretty harsh feedback on my blog. Friends say I sound cocky and the writing is aggressive. I've told them that if I wrote slowly and deliberately (like I do with persuasive essays), I wouldn't be able to write as much as I do. Everything would take longer. And the posts themselves would be longer.

As a result. I write... Differently. And quickly - for example this blog is being written on a plane, on my iPad. Takeoff in 4.

Anyway, I'm currently reading Getting Real (37signals). And I saw this preface:

"If our tone seems too know-it-allish, bear with us. We think it’s better to present ideas in bold strokes than to be wishy-washy about it. If that comes off as cocky or arrogant, so be it. We’d rather be provocative than water everything down with “it depends...” Of course there will be times when these rules need to be stretched or broken. And some of these tactics may not apply to your situation. Use your judgement and imagination."

While an instructional piece is different than blog posts, I agree that this writing style is best for communicating complex thoughts efficiently. Well said.

The Lingo

Last week a buddy of mine moved to SF from the East Coast. I met him for drinks with a few friends from my co-working space. He asked great questions and contributed to the conversation. ...but the table soon commented on the way  he phrased his questions. 

He asked something like: "What company do you work for?" 

In a heavily sarcastic voice, someone at the table corrected him. They pointed out that most people in tech would phrase the questions differently. 

While the tone was certainly joking, our table began chatting about the truth behind the joke. As silly as it is, we agreed that people working in tech startups do phrase things a little differently. Here are a few of the examples we thought of: 

Where do you work? =

"What are you working on right now?"

I’m starting my own company. =

"I’m working on a new project."

I’m starting a company in the EXAMPLE industry. =  

"I’m working on a new EXAMPLE concept."

In response, he warned us that there is a fine line between sounding local, and sounding like someone from "startup guys."


The Ol' "Wizard of Oz" Trick

Working at a startup. Doing a ton of different things. But this week has been really sales heavy. Selling advertising technology to publishers and media companies. 

I've sent out thousands of emails. Some using mass email tools, some manually.  

For weeks I have been trying to get in touch with an elusive media contact named Will. He ignored... 6 or 8 emails. 3 or 4 calls. But his sites are really perfect for what we are selling - I think. 

In any case, I'd rather be told "no," than ignored. So I kept pushing. In a moment of exasperation, I sent this email to Will this afternoon: 


It was comparable to my other sales emails, but prefaced by my wise remark - as shown above. 

My other emails were ignored completely. Within 30 minutes of sending above email, I heard back:  


Sale is not made. No signature on the dotted line yet. But a small victory. Makes me think of this quote: 

"The less confident you are, the more serious you have to act."

- Tara Ploughman



Follow the Leader

"The first follower transforms a lone crazy person into a leader. So as we are told that we should all be leaders... if you really care about starting a movement, have the courage to follow and show others how to follow. And when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first one to join in." 

-Derek Sivers