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Dealing with disappointing grades

Getting high grades leaving school can often feel like the be all and end all at seventeen and eighteen. An unprecedented year in every way, 138,000 students’ Highers were decided by teachers rather than exams, leaving many confused over their results and their futures.

As recruiters, it’s our job to advise our candidates on how they can best prepare to enter the job market. As candidates face an uncertain and competitive job market, many might be wondering how to prepare to enter the market with lower grades than they had anticipated.

Our advice is the same for all of our candidates who face disappointing grades, whether it’s those leaving school or leaving university.

1. Don’t panic

In the context of a long career, leaving school with lower grades is merely a blip in what’s yet to come. Over time, experience will trump your school grades and become your best asset. Very few people secure roles in their dream industries straight from school or university, and many people don’t have a straightforward career.

Embrace the fact that you have all of the time in the world to try different jobs to find what best suits you and your skillset.

2. Be honest

Being upfront and transparent from the start is key. There’s no benefit in trying to hide or avoid questions about your results, as it could waste your time and the employer’s. Definitely don’t lie or exaggerate results – when you’re caught it could lead to any job offers being withdrawn, and will damage your reputation.

Be proud and embrace your results – you’ve worked hard over the years and will have built up knowledge and skills you can bring to the workplace.

3. Employer attitudes are changing

In light of the impact of COVID, more traineeships and apprenticeships are being created to encourage people between the ages of 16-24 into the job market. Traineeships provide you with experience you might need to get another job and can last from six weeks to six months.

Apprenticeships provide a great opportunity to work while learning across industries, with your training costs usually covered by your employer and the government.

4. Relevant experience

If you are still seeking employment a few months after leaving school, focus on gaining some relevant work experience to separate yourself from the crowd, either through an unpaid internship or a full-time temporary role within your sector of interest.

Regardless of where you are applying, make sure to highlight the skills and experience you have gained beyond your Highers. Whether it’s work experience, volunteering or hobbies, it’s important not to focus solely on educational achievements.

5. Positive mindset

You might be disappointed, but it’s important to quickly put it behind you. Highers can be more of a psychological burden for candidates than they need to be. The best thing to do is to identify everything you’ve learned – educational and otherwise – and take that forward.

Everyone’s circumstances are different, and the biggest determinant of success isn’t academic grades – it’s ambition, determination and professional learning and development. It’s also resilience, and the ability to bounce back from defeat.

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