Prompted by a return to his alma mater, where he encountered earnest students that contrasted with his own university experience, Rory Sutherland, the vice-chairman of Ogilvy Group UK, declared in The Spectator recently that he was considering recommending that his agency only employs degree graduates who have achieved a 2:2 or a third.
His reasoning was that he has never come across evidence that someone with a first-class degree had proved a better employee than someone with a second- or third-class one. In fact, he believed that the opposite was true in most cases, and said that he would no longer compete with the bigger salaries, such as those offered in investment banking, to attract young talent.
Whether Sutherland’s tongue was wedged firmly into his cheek, or whether Ogilvy follows through with his suggestion, is a different matter, but it does offer hope to graduates who have failed to secure a top grade. It also begs the question of whether advertising obsesses unnecessarily over attracting the graduates with the best degrees, rather than the best graduates.
Peter Souter, chairman and chief creative officer, TBWA UK
"I’d take talented over qualified any day. Academic degrees favour people who are good at remembering stuff for a few weeks so they can write an essay or pass an exam. Did either of those skills come up in your agency today? They didn’t in mine. There are, of course, life-changing degrees. My wife runs the Central Saint Martins advertising course and has put teams in agencies every year for the past two decades. Nobody ever asks her students what grade they got. They look at their work. They maybe glance up to see if the kid would be fun to have around. But the marks are irrelevant. Only the ability to create is relevant. Degrees are only good for measuring temperature."
Paul Lawson, chief executive, Leo Burnett London; deputy chief executive, Leo Burnett Group
"I would suggest that somebody who has attained a degree will have had to exhibit the ability to apply themselves and the ability to think in a robust fashion. They might even be able to spell properly and, fingers crossed, express themselves in a coherent fashion. For me, these attributes are the cost of entry into our graduate programme. The next filters are about looking for individuality, emotional intelligence and personableness. These individuals are rare. They are what David Ogilvy would have called ‘modern-day trumpeter swans’. That is why we invest so much time and effort in finding them."
Tom Knox, joint chief executive, DLKW Lowe
"I write this having recently found myself consoling a distraught mother who believed her son’s 2:2 would consign him to inevitable long-term unemployment. It’s an incredibly tough job market for graduates but, in our business (and many others), the quality of degree is an unreliable indicator of likely performance. One of my brilliant business partners failed to collect a degree from Christchurch, having been politely asked to leave early by the college authorities. Academic achievement is poorly correlated to entrepreneurial spirit, and I fear that too often we use degree grades as a shortcut to filter the pile of applications."
Marco Scognamiglio, chief executive, Rapp UK
"I’d be surprised if our industry had only just recognised that our best talent doesn’t just come from those with top academic qualifications. It’s just one of a number of criteria. The discussion must start with an individual’s character. If that person is inquisitive about everything in the world today, has a hunger to learn and a willingness to share with peers and clients, they will have a great chance of a job at Rapp in the UK or globally. If getting there is the result of a first- to third-class degree or leaving school early like Lord Sugar – that’s fine by me. This approach brings diversity of talent, which is what agencies need for their clients’ benefit."