O-level scores less vital in job search than before

Employers look for ways of assessing job seekers beyond grades, say experts

Job seekers at a job fair. Experts say that while employers will look at a job applicant's highest qualifications, skills and track record, some will still ask to see O-level scores in subjects relevant to the job.
Job seekers at a job fair. Experts say that while employers will look at a job applicant's highest qualifications, skills and track record, some will still ask to see O-level scores in subjects relevant to the job. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

How you fared in the O levels still matters in the search for jobs, but a lot less than in the past, as companies look for other ways of evaluating applicants beyond grades.

This is also because, in general, Singaporeans are better educated and hold higher qualifications like bachelor's or master's degrees, human resource (HR) experts said.

But they added that firms still ask for O-level grades in certain subjects if they are relevant to the job.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) had announced last Thursday that from 2020, polytechnic graduates applying to Singapore's local universities will not need to include their O-level results.

The National University of Singapore and Nanyang Technological University will drop the current 20 per cent weighting given to O-level results for polytechnic graduate applicants, in a move to recognise their latest qualification.

Other universities are also relying less on O-level results, although they do continue to have subject-specific requirements. For instance, the Singapore Management University requires diploma holders to have at least an A1 or A2 grade in O-Level English when applying for law, or good passes in mathematics when it comes to accountancy and economics programmes.

HR experts said that most employers are also more interested in the latest qualifications of job applicants.

Some agencies, especially in the civil service, may want applicants to submit their O-level results along with other academic certifications, although they do not use them in assessing the candidates.

Mr Erman Tan, president of Singapore Human Resources Institute, said: "If you're fresh from university, firms may need a fuller set of qualifications, but if you've been working for a while, they look at work credentials and track record."

When asked if jobs in the government sector require applicants to submit their O-level scores, a spokesman for the Public Service Division said the agencies consider past work experience, skills and credentials needed for the job. For fresh graduates, they take into account participation in co-curricular activities and internships, among other things.

"In general, the hiring agencies will request candidates to submit documentation on the highest and other academic qualifications obtained relevant to the job application," said the spokesman.

Mr David Leong, managing director of recruitment firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, said: "I have rarely seen candidates being rejected because they had poor scores in their transcripts. The civil service has a different rule, but increasingly it is getting more liberal in its hiring system... (by) looking out more for work experience and traits."

Mr Ronald Lee, managing director of PrimeStaff Management Services, said: "No private companies today want to know O-level results unless it is perhaps for a low-level role. The Singapore population as a whole has developed and everyone has adult learning opportunities. This has led to many having degrees and postgraduate qualifications."

HR experts said that O-level results still have value in some cases, where they are relevant to the skills needed for a job.

The O-level English grade would be required if the job involves writing, grades in physics or mathematics if the job is in the engineering field, or a good score in Chinese may be required if you are being posted to China, said Mr Tan.

Mr Josh Goh, marketing director of ManpowerGroup Singapore, said some firms use the O-level English score as a convenient method to gauge a person's language proficiency, although it may not be the best measure as language skills can improve over time.

It would be best to conduct aptitude and writing tests during job interviews, he added.

Mr Daniel Soh, managing partner of executive headhunting firm Leadership Advisory, said there are high-performing N-level students who went on to polytechnic under the Polytechnic Foundation Programme, without taking the O levels. He said: "There is a need to change how we recognise those students who did well in polytechnic, but did not do O levels."

Said Mr Leong: "The O-level score is not a crucial gauge of a person's competencies, confidence or core skills." It may give some idea of a person's ability when he or she was 16 or 17, he said, but would have little bearing on how that person evolved.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 11, 2018, with the headline O-level scores less vital in job search than before. Subscribe