Your GPA Doesn’t Matter. Think Critically if You Want a Job

Google doesn’t give a shit where you went to school or what your GPA was.

I’m going to be honest, I hate people who think that they can inspire others with vague language and quick – fixes to their problems. It’s a waste of their time and yours, but there’s a reason why all of those waist trainers (which are basically girdles advertised by the Kardashians), weight-loss teas (AKA laxatives), and workout supplements (I don’t even know what these are made of, tbh) get so popular; they make a complicated problem seem easy to fix.

Employers want you to tackle your own problems and think critically about EVERYTHING.

What I do want to tell you is that I know what the new employer wants out of fresh college and university grads because I am one, and because I’ve done a lot of research and work on the topic in local, provincial, and international roles.

Employers want you to tackle your own problems and think critically about EVERYTHING. The boring definition of critical thinking from good ol’ Wikipedia is that it’s “the objective analysis and evaluation of an issue in order to form a judgment”. AKA,  think logically about facts in your life and use problem-solving skills to reach your own damn solutions.

WHY TRUST ME?

One summer, I worked as a student researcher in the Centre for Teaching and Learning at my old university. Most schools have a centre like this, and they do really cool research on student achievement and students’ post-graduation employment prospects. My job was to look for a link between Engineering students’ ability to think critically and their achievement in school.

I’ve held a number of similar roles working with students, government offices, and international organizations, who all cite ‘youths’ ability to innovate’ as an important ingredient…

We found that students with higher scores on tests measuring critical thinking ability also got higher marks in their university courses. The interesting part is that employers also started to ask students for the results of these critical thinking tests, so they could take students’ ability to think critically into consideration when hiring them for positions in engineering and finance.

I’ve held a number of similar roles working with students, government offices, and international organizations, who all cite ‘youths’ ability to innovate’ as an important ingredient to the future success of our classrooms, our communities, and our world as a whole. That’s all well and good, but how the hell do we actually ‘innovate’ as students? It means thinking about our learning and changing it to be more efficient, and focused on solving problems. Like I said, critical thinking is important. It shows people that you give a shit about… anything.

HOW DO I START THINKING CRITICALLY?

The first step to thinking critically is to be confident in your decisions. This is purely my own opinion. If you’re going to be thinking in a new way, you need to show people you’re confident to be a bit different. It’s like when you wear an ugly Christmas sweater; if you do it with confidence, you look cool. Now it’s not just your old uncle who wears the light-up Rudolph sweater, is it?

BE A ‘LEARN – IT – ALL’, NOT A ‘KNOW – IT – ALL’

So, I wish I coined that term because it guides my life now, but I didn’t. In August 2016, Satya Nadella, CEO of a little company you’ve never heard of called MICROSOFT said those words. The culture at Microsoft is shifting towards one focused on learning, rather than simply attracting talent that already knows how to do everything. Why did they change the corporate culture? Well, a big part of it was that Nadella didn’t want them to get trapped focusing on their past successes.

The Learn-It-Alls are driven to change so they can make themselves and their environment better, rather than focusing on doing what they already know.

In an interview with GeekWire, Nadella also quoted a book he read called Mindset, in which Carol Dweck talks about ‘Learn-it-alls’ and ‘Know-it-alls’. The gist is that even if the people who want to learn start at a lower ability level than the people who know everything already, the ‘Learn-it-alls’ will catch up and surpass the Know-It-Alls. The Learn-It-Alls are driven to change so they can make themselves and their environment better, rather than focusing on doing what they already know.

Being able to think about what learning you need to do to get to where you want to go means you’re thinking critically, and it’s in demand in every sector.

START THINKING CRITICALLY IN SCHOOL

Start by taking a new course, a new class, or say yes to something you wouldn’t normally do at school. This will help you to build interpersonal skills, conversation skills, and the ability to make connections with people. It’s a good way to build skills that will let you work in a multi-disciplinary environments, and you can learn about new people and their backgrounds.

Finding good sources of information is a key part of putting critical thinking into action.

If you don’t know what you’re doing in this class, don’t just give up and say you can’t figure it out! Look online, find YouTube videos, check the index of your textbook, and find what you’re looking for. Finding good sources of information is a key part of putting critical thinking into action.

Once, I reached out to an engineering professor to help me figure out the mechanics on a theoretical battery I was making for a university course. My course instructor was impressed that I reached out to someone else, and my final product was way better because of my new knowledge. My prof gave me academic and personal reference letters, and I got to work with the engineering prof again in a separate job, where he was really helpful when I had problems.

THINKING CRITICALLY FOR WORK

What’s the problem you want to solve? Keep that at the core of all of your work, your job applications, and your conversations. It could be vague like, “I want my work to focus on the global food security crisis.” This gives you a theme to all of your work and interests. People (especially employers!!!) can follow a thread. It’s better to have a few things you’re interested in and good at on your resume than 10, 000 things you don’t really care that much about. Employers see through it pretty quickly.

Or, the problem could be specific, like, “I fucking hate this crack in the sidewalk in front of my house that everyone trips over, and no one will come and fix it!”. Random, but then again, you get to work through the process of fixing a problem. It means you’ve dealt with different community stakeholders, you’ve presented an issue to a government agency, and you’re willing to go out of your way to make your community better. No problem is better than another, so long as you’re passionate about eventually solving it.

You’ll be surprised at how many people respond to your passion if there’s something that really gets you all riled up, or if there’s something you want to fix.

GETTING THE INTERVIEW

If there’s someone you really like or admire in the field you want to go into, reach out to them. Hunt around the internet, find their business or organization E-mail, and ask them questions about their work. People love to talk about themselves, and they’ll appreciate the fact that you reached out to them with questions. I’ve E-mailed people at midnight, asking questions about their work. You’d be surprised at how many of these people write back almost right away. This can lead to new connections and offers for interviews.

Many of the soft skills you have, like good communication, determination, and initiative will transfer between different sectors and show that you actually give a shit about the work you’re doing.

Also, be confident when you’re applying for positions outside of your area of study or even outside of your comfort zone. Many of the soft skills you have, like good communication, determination, and initiative will transfer between different sectors and show that you actually give a shit about the work you’re doing. Employers look for people who are ready and willing to learn, especially for internships or summer roles.

IN THE INTERVIEW

Have you gone through a round of job recruitment at your college or university? Critical thinking is one of the most sought-after skills. Employers ask situational questions, and sometimes, you’ll have to complete a case-based interview. Questions in these interviews are vague. On purpose. You need to explain your thought-process verbally or on paper, and come to a feasible answer.

The Vault did a survey of their Top 50 Consulting Firms to Work for in 2013, and compiled lists of common case-based interview questions. According to these firms, one common interview question in 2013 was, “How many lightbulbs are there in Manhattan?”

“My weakness is that I’m a perfectionist”. Plz, no.

Now, the key to answering these questions is not to panic. A lot of practice goes into prepping for these interviews, but the people who are more likely to get the job will show their knowledge of market sizing and estimation, which are hugely important in consulting jobs. The point is, your answer to this case-based interview question will show your potential employer if you can consider the basic facts, think critically about the situation, and come up with an answer that isn’t “My weakness is that I’m a perfectionist”. Plz, no.

Interviews are the time to show how you think. No one is perfect, so don’t try to be. Show your employer what frustrates you and share your ability to problem-solve and think critically about topics that are actually relevant to the stuff you’ll be doing in this job!

Overall, the key to critical thinking is to question everything you hear, from every source. That means fact-checking and questioning information from peers, the news, or even articles like this. When you’re looking at the news, don’t take it at face value. Look up a couple of different sources, especially ones you don’t necessarily agree with. We need to stop justifying the opinions we already have, even it can be a bit uncomfortable. Employers want to see this ability to question and expand your knowledge and abilities. Einstein said the true definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Or was it Einstein? Maybe you should look it up.

Alyssa Filippi

Alyssa Filippi

Alyssa teaches people to learn and also learns how to teach people.