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Will my A level grades affect my chances of getting a graduate IT job?

Many IT graduate schemes require a minimum number of UCAS points. If you don’t quite make the grade, what can you do?

You’re a talented student at a top university, with work experience under your belt and a 2.1 or even a first on the horizon. So there’s nothing to stop you at least being considered for a graduate scheme place with an IT company – or is there?

Many IT recruiters specify minimum A level grades or UCAS points that candidates must have in order to apply, in addition to a 2.1 degree. Naturally, all graduate recruiters want top candidates, but if you’re a genuinely talented student with A levels that don’t reflect your ability, researching employers’ requirements can be a frustrating business. A TARGETjobs IT survey investigated the problem and what you can do about it.

The grades recruiters want

Leading recruiters who do have such requirements typically set minimum UCAS point levels of around 280–320. Visit employers’ websites for details of their individual requirements. Keep in mind that even recruiters with no cut-off point will still take A level performance into consideration.

Will recruiters make an exception for me?

TARGETjobs IT questioned a number of recruiters to see if their UCAS points cut-offs really are set in stone. Specifically, we asked: ‘Would you consider candidates who don’t quite meet your minimum A level grades/UCAS points but who were in any the following situations?’

  • Have performed outstandingly well academically at university. (For example, being on track for a first from a top university.)
  • Have genuine mitigating circumstances. (For example, illness or bereavement.)
  • Have extensive relevant work experience. (For example, multiple internships or a year in industry.)
  • Have a demonstrable passion for technology and evidence of excellent technical skills. (For example winning awards or writing applications that are now in use commercially).

Of those recruiters willing to go on the record, we received the following responses:

  • Accenture: ‘Any application made by a candidate who does not meet our minimum entry requirements for our consulting graduate programme is reviewed in its entirety, and considered on a case-by-case basis alongside any mitigating circumstances that may have affected the individual candidate’s performance. We encourage candidates to make us aware of any mitigating circumstances on the application form. We also offer client delivery and software engineering graduate programmes, which do not have any UCAS entry requirements.’
  • Alfa (formerly CHP Consulting): only considers making an exception ‘if a student has had a medical problem and has a letter from their doctor confirming this’. In such a situation, the candidate should contact the HR manager, Gillian Bray, by phone or email, rather than applying through the usual channels in the first instance ‘as there is a chance the student could be missed or screened out’.
  • Metaswitch Networks: will consider students with mitigating circumstances for their A level results or extensive relevant work experience. Will occasionally also consider students who have performed outstandingly well at university, or who have hard evidence of excellent technical skills. Candidates in such situations wishing to be considered should ‘apply through the usual channels but provide as much information as possible in the “Additional info” section of the application form to support their cases.’
  • Tessella: will consider making an exception in certain instances. Candidates in this situation should ‘apply through normal channels (online) but make the explanation clear in a covering letter.’

Two additional recruiters stated anonymously that ‘extensive work experience’ or ‘hard evidence of technical skills’ would not persuade them to make an exception. However, they might do so on the grounds of mitigating circumstances for A level performance or, in one case, for outstanding academic performance at university. One added that: ‘Because of the volume of applications it is impossible to deal with each applicant directly. To ensure fairness of process everyone should apply through our website.’

Will I be rejected automatically by the online application system if I don’t have the minimum grades?

No one wants to spend hours filling in an online application only to be rejected automatically. The good news is that while some recruiters design their systems to do this, many others do not, and will include an option to explain any mitigating circumstances. With many employers, it’s possible to register to use the online system and then take a look at what it contains before deciding whether to spend the time completing it. Spotting a mitigating circumstances section is a good indication that you won’t be automatically rejected.

What can I do if I’m still struggling?

TARGETjobs IT spoke to a number of university course tutors about what students should do if they feel they are a stronger candidate than their A level results suggest. They encouraged students to persevere where possible and lobby employers to consider them. In some cases, university tutors are willing to assist on behalf of students.

  • James McKee, head of Royal Holloway’s mathematics department, suggests: ‘1) Press the employers to see if they will consider other measures of talent. 2) Look for other employers!’
  • Professor Dr Reiko Heckel, chair in software engineering and head of the Department of Computer Science, University of Leicester, comments: ‘In some cases the motivation of an employer may be to filter applications through automated processing. Under Data Protection law, individuals have the right to opt out of automated decision making based on their data. That means, by law there should be a way around automated systems, such as an email address, where a CV or enquiry can be sent, and they may be prepared to accept students with excellent degrees despite lower A level results.’

From our survey of recruiters, it’s clear that this is worth a try in some instances, as not all recruiters regard their minimum grade requirements as ‘absolute’ – even if that’s not the impression they give in their recruitment advertising. If you can’t find any information on their websites or online application forms about mitigating circumstances, try getting in touch with recruiters prior to applying to see if it’s worth your while. Make any mitigating circumstances or outstanding achievements clear in your covering letter (if applying by CV) or on the online application form (if applying online). It’s also worth asking in your university department or careers service to see if anyone can put in a good word for you with a recruiter they know.

However, the survey also indicates that some recruiters are more flexible than others, so be realistic. In particular, try recruiters offering similar work but who have no UCAS point cut-offs – it’s always possible to change companies a couple of years down the line. As well as the companies listed above, your university department or careers service may be able to direct you to recruiters who will be keen to hear from you.

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