Do MBA grades matter?

  • Himani Bahuguna, IIM-Indore, 2002-04
  • Apr 24th, 2017

Now that you have got into a business school of your choice, should you slog your behind off to secure high grades? Do recruiters care about your grades? A question that has vexed students and divided public opinion for many years. The short answer is, well, it depends.
Everyone who gets into an MBA programme wants to do well. Doing well can have many parameters but grades are a really objective measure that recruiters can assess students on. Placement season is cramped, recruiters often flit from one campus to the other in a matter of days and within one school, interview schedules can get over in a matter of 2-3 days. How would then they select whom they really want in such cramped schedules? It would appear logical that grades can help them make this seemingly difficult choice. 
However, its often not as straight forward as that. For starters, many schools have a non-disclosure policy meaning students are not allowed to put their grades on their resumes. Whilst this may seem harsh if you have worked hard to secure high grades, there can be no way around this. Secondly, even if you are allowed to put your grades, many organizations don’t care about them or at least do not make them central to their hiring decisions. Employers also have experience of seeing how people perform over the years where many mediocre students turn out to be brilliant employees and vice versa. Therefore, it should not be surprising to see someone in the bottom quartile of the graduating class secure one of the highest paying jobs during placements.
However, there are certain industries who rely on grades quite heavily during their recruitment processes. Typically, Consulting firms and Investment Banks place a higher emphasis on high grades. So if your dream job is with a Wall Street I Bank or one of the top management consulting firms, you better ensure you are in the top 10 percentile of your graduating class. However, many other industries like FMCG simply do not care about your grades. Therefore, it helps to know what sort of a job you are looking for. 
As any HR manager would attest, every single hiring decision is a risk that the organization is taking. Your employer is going to invest heavily into your on boarding, training and other costs like background verification with no return on their investment for up to six months as you find your feet within the organization. Unlike hiring experienced resources where they can fall back on reference checks, for fresh MBA graduates, there is no one who can vouch for your work, your attitude, your skills etc. All that the recruiters have at their disposal in order to take the risk in hiring you is the 1 hour interview. 
They would, therefore, like to manage risk by looking at a basket of factors rather than just your MBA grades, such as:

  • Have you participated in extracurricular activities? 
  • Held any positions of responsibility such as being on the student council? 
  • Been a member of an interest group at your school e.g. the Finance Club? 
  • Done voluntary live projects? 
  • Where did you do your summer internship and any achievements there? 
  • Won any awards in management fests such as in case study or paper writing contests? 
  • What hobbies do you have and what have you done to pursue them? 
  • How aware you are about the world in general and the industry you are targeting in particular? 
  • Any other achievements that would help you distinguish yourself from other candidates? 

To be fair, the above is true irrespective of whether you have high grades or not. Logic would also dictate high grades cannot hurt your candidature, all other things being equal. However, MBA is demanding, time is at a premium and it is important to understand where to concentrate your energies. Therefore, unless you have firmly set your eyes on an investment bank or a top management consulting firm, it might be better to allocate your time and energy into building a well-rounded CV where you can demonstrate your competencies on a wide array of factors such as the above rather than chasing only grades. 
Good luck!

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