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Certificates Are Just Papers, Really?


James is a brilliant young man, at least going by his contributions in various discussions – from politics, sports to information technology. At 25, he already has three years’ experience – not in any workplace, but experience sitting at home and roaming the streets of Victoria Island, seen as the Wall Street of Nigeria. He graduated four years ago from a top university in South-West Nigeria and he completed his mandatory youth service a year later. Since then, he’s been dropping his CVs off everywhere, from the high-rise buildings of Victoria Island to the “middle-rises” of Ikeja and the bungalow-offices of Lekki. He has applied for countless of advertised and unsolicited vacancies,
online and offline, but he has never been called for any job test or interview.

James speaks very fluent English. He is also handsome, to boot. But there has not been any opportunity for James to speak his Queen’s English to the employers. No opportunity to get the recruiters to see how fittingly those suits sit on him and his signature disarming smile cannot help either. The issue here is: Employers look at James’ first degree certificate and see a third class grade. And they have more than enough to choose from, from the pool of applicants with second class upper and first class.

James is one of the thousands of students who were fond of arguing in school that certificates are just papers; that the class of degree does not matter. Isn’t it easier to play safe by proving that one is competitive in the events (academics) leading to the acquisition of that certificate? How will an employer who doesn’t know you from the next person know of your ability if you didn’t do well in your academics? Is it not fair to rely on your past – basically summarised on your certificate – as the record of your worthiness?

If another person bested you in academics, graduating better grades, what will prove to me, the employer that you can do better on the job? How will you convince me that you’re better than that person? Is it economical for the employer to invite the whole world for his job test? There has to be something set so as to prune down the thousands of applications and manage the invited applicants at a cost-effective level? At the entry level, your certificate – which, contrary to popular belief, is not just paper, but a summary of your performance in the higher institution over the last three to six years – is the easiest pointer to your past, the few shortcomings of this approach notwithstanding.

While conceding the fact that certificates do not always correlate with intelligence or smartness, I believe that it does, in most cases, summarises one’s ability to a potential employer. To me, the use of certificates as a basis in shortlisting entry-level candidates for job tests and interviews is still the best approach. The recruitment process will then sieve out the incompetent ones along the way. And if they do manage to beat the recruitment system, they cannot beat the internal performance appraisal system when they finally settle in on the job.

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