An A* in Attitude


It’s years since I’ve really paid much attention to the announcement of the A Level or GCSE results. Of course I shout at the radio during one of the annoying phone-in programmes during the ritual ‘does-the-increase-in-A-grades-mean-that-exams-are-dumbing-down?” media frenzy that kicks off every August as reliably as the start of the new football season. But this year an anxious, even more moody than usual, sixteen year old daughter moping round the house wearing pyjamas and a blanket, signalled the need for me to pay more attention.

This year Lydia took her GCSEs. On my birthday she got her results, via her school web page, at 6am.

She’s very quick witted, worked extremely hard and is lucky enough to attend a lovely, nurturing, school… perhaps not surprisingly (to Jo and I at least) she did very well. We are delighted for her that she has secured the grades she needs to do her chosen A Levels – grades that are in no small part down to her own efforts. There is now a new piece of data forever attached to her which says what GCSE grades she has and I’m not naive enough to think that this is not a very valuable piece of data as she heads off into an ever more competitive world.

Good qualifications undoubtedly increase your life options. They open up more opportunities. But they are not enough on their own to guarantee success and given the right opportunity may not even be needed. What will determine how things actually turn out for you is your attitude. How you respond to events – at what life throws at you; how you take responsibility for your actions and the way you interact with others. These are far more important things to know about someone than whether they got an A* for their GCSE Chemistry.
Max 1This is Maximilian.
He was one of the contestants in series 3 of Young Apprentice.
He seemed to have everything going for him.
He has 11 A* GCSEs
He plays the piano, cello and double bass.
He enjoys going to the opera, horse-riding and the theatre.
He discovered an unknown drawing by Lowry and sold it for £1,000.

But somehow he was the first to be ejected from the series last year.

You’re exceptionally great on paper“, Lord Sugar told the young entrepreneur……before kicking him out of the boardroom.

Max’s problem was his attitude. He thought that being exceptionally great on paper automatically meant that he was exceptionally great in the real world too but as anyone who watched his toe curlingly awful performance will testify……it didn’t!

I work with an incredible bunch of people at Bromford. Some of them have A Levels, some have no qualifications, some have MBAs. I genuinely have no idea which is which because to be honest it really doesn’t matter.

When we recruit a new colleague we obviously want to see that they have achieved a basic level of education. But far more importantly we want to get under their skin and see what makes them tick. How do they really behave under pressure? How well do they work with others? How good are they at drawing on everything they’ve learnt in life to help them solve a new problem?

We find out the answers by getting candidates to play games…..while we watch to see how they behave. Because all the games come in a box we call the day Assessment in a Box.

It’s an incredibly powerful and effective way of cutting through the well researched but very dull answers to the equally insipid and predictable questions of a typical job interview. We do interview a few of the candidates but by this stage it is pretty informal and really is far more of a ‘getting to know each other’ conversation than an interview.

Hannah Duckett recently joined Bromford to work at Britton House near Bristol where we help young people get their lives back on track. She describes the experience of taking part in our Assessment in a Box like this:

“The day itself was like nothing I have ever experienced….but in a good way! It was clear that the onus was on being yourself.”

You can read Hannah’s full story here in her first, rather wonderful Blog.

We don’t want to hire people because of paper qualifications or a long list of previous jobs they’ve done……only to fire them months later because their attitude is all wrong.

So what about Lydia? She has the qualifications but would she pass the attitude test?

Well, yes, she’s got a nice clutch of GCSEs. But far more importantly she has a great attitude to life and learning. She has real passions – at the moment for art, music and spending all her time in a darkened room. She is an excellent judge of character; being trusted and able to trust others is really important to her. She is incredibly well organised. She listens, learns, applies her learning and rubs along well with all sorts of other people.

I think I’d give her an A*.


7 responses to “An A* in Attitude

  1. Firstly congratulations to Lydia and secondly loved the post. For those people who maybe didn’t get what the hoped for use a saying that I repeat to myself when knocked back. It is from the Rocky film

    “Life isn’t about how hard you hit. It is about how hard you get hit but keep moving forward.”


    • Thanks Barry. Love the Rocky quote.

      I think resilience is becoming more and more important….particularly for anyone working in a business that is all about change.


  2. Like Barry, let me start off by congratulating Lydia – what a lovely birthday present for you too, John!

    I also loved the post and the message you talk of, reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:

    “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” ~ Zig Ziglar


  3. Great post John. I’m sure we all know people who are academically perfect who have zero social skills as we know people with little to no academic qualifications who are great. I have a mate who used talk about how he could spell FUDGE with his GCSE results and he’s one of the smartest wittiest people I know.

    Qualifications are by no means the be all and end all of what a person is or what they can attain. Unfortunately though at the moment they do matter. For numerous reasons I ended up with a 2:2 coming out of University and that seriously messed all my plans up. I couldn’t apply to any graduate schemes and knew that if I wanted to continue in law I wouldn’t be able to (luckily I didn’t). I spent 4 years wondering about in the unemployed / awful job wilderness before I ended up here. Luckily this place encourages and allows employees to work to their potential and not their pay grade but again unfortunately I feel that in general in the world of work this is the exception not the norm.

    Qualifications like anything else are a guide, a snap snot of a particular part of a persons abilities. They’re useful as a guide but a guide is all they ever should be. The proofs in the pudding and employers should take the opportunity to do a good bit of nibbling to figure out what it tastes like as opposed to relying on the description on the box!


    • Thanks for the feedback Thom.

      I agree with you that many employers and industries seem obsessed with qualifications and grades. Like you I find Bromford’s approach truly refreshing. I think I’d now go so far as to say that any employer hung up on whether I got a 2:1 or a 2:2 or did or didn’t have a GCSE in a foreign language is not somewhere I’d want to spend 40 hours a week!


  4. There are countless examples (as you all know) of successful people with no ‘qualifications’. Here’s one we discovered today that I doubt anyone will know about: Li Ka-shing.

    Li Ka-shing is the richest person in Asia. He is the eighth richest person in the world and the world’s largest operator of container terminals and the world’s largest health and beauty retailer.

    He dropped out of school at 15 and worked 16 hour days. What an example for anyone being told at school that ‘uni is everything’ or that they ‘won’t become anything if they don’t attend uni’ as I was.


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