How do I convey university grades when applying internationally?
November 3, 2010 5:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm a physics graduate trying to sell myself to potential employers in a variety of industries. One of the points I'm trying to emphasize when applying is that I did comparatively well at university. However, I'm unsure how to best convey that fact to international employers.

Rambly background:

- In Austria, where my degree is from, there is a 1-5 grade system with 1 best. My degree comes with a 1.16 weighted average. Do I mention this? There is a suffix attached to my degree that indicates that my average is <= 1.5 ("mit Auszeichnung"), but I think the 1.16 is about another standard deviation above that.

- In addition, since universities are free, average degree completion times vary quite a bit. Completing studies within the curricular time frame is comparatively rare and usually indicates a higher degree of commitment to one's studies. I did this.

- Then, there's the entire question of degree naming - mine's a five-year degree (pre-Bologna-process) called a "Diplomingenieur" in the German tradition. It's equivalent to what they're selling as a master's degree nowadays (they've just chopped the first three years off and give people a bachelor degree after them). How do I indicate this? I've called it a "five-year degree" so far.

Now, I'm somewhat conflicted about how to communicate this - I don't want to spend half my cover letter rambling about how all these specifics indicate that I did really well at university, but I think the usual half-sentence in my cover-letter ("Besides excelling in my coursework, I ") also doesn't quite do it justice. Ideas, hive mind? Recipients are currently in the UK and Switzerland.

More specific subquestion: I've seen UK job ads refer to their system of degree classification, but I'm unsure whether I should try to refer to my guesstimates ("probably equivalent to first-class degree", haha) or just rely on the usual. If I apply to stuff that says "second-class degree or better from a well-known university", will they just chuck my application for being foreign?
posted by themel to Work & Money (10 answers total)
Definitely mention it. It is totally fair to assume that foreign employers are not entirely familiar with the Austiran school system. I mean, they might be familiar with it, but there is no guarantee. Most good employers will probabyl be aware of the whole Bologna process, and that there exist 1-5 and 1-6 grade scales. But it is helpful to say explicitly that the scale is 1-5, and that 1 is best.

Just say you are a Dipl. Ingenieur. You can qualify very shortly as "Dipl. Ingenieur (pre-Bologna-process Masters degree equivalent)". If you include information on your thesis, that will help them get a better idea of what your degree means.

Sorry, reading again, the Swiss will be very familiar with Austrian grads. So there is no need to explain anything. The Brits will need a short but sweet clarification. Try the sentence:

"I excelled in my coursework, graduating with a 1.15 (on a 1-5 grading system)." (It is obvious that 1 means good here. )
posted by molecicco at 5:29 AM on November 3, 2010

If I apply to stuff that says "second-class degree or better from a well-known university", will they just chuck my application for being foreign?

In the EU, of which the UK is a member, even if an increasingly reluctant one, that would be illegal. I don't know how well the law is enforced on the ground, but EU employers are not permitted to discriminate on the basis of national origin, especially with respect to citizens of EU nations.
posted by valkyryn at 5:30 AM on November 3, 2010

I don't know how well understood your applications will be in Switzerland, but here's a British answer. I'm British, but I work in German academia now, which has an undegrad system that is more like Austria than the UK. This system was completely unfamiliar to me until I arrived, and I'm an academic, so you're right to assume that employers will be unfamiliar with your qualifications. This may not be the case if your application is read by HR managers in banking, but don't count on it.

I would spend half a sentence on explaining your classification, and half a sentence on your degree being better than a UK undergrad. This can go in your cover letter and your CV.

As you've probably gathered, the UK degree classification system lacks granularity: something like 80% of people get 1, 2.1, 2.2. Unless you're applying for a job in your specific academic field, reporting just this classification is almost always sufficient for UK applicants. The Austrian system is apparently more granular, but is of course unfamiliar to people in the UK. If you can, give your rank within the year group, which is probably the most readily understood quantification of your achievement. If not, say you were in the first class out of the five possible in Austria, and that this is roughly equivalent to a good UK First Class (Hons), which sounds like it's the case.

Assuming you did a significant research thesis project in your last year or two, which is how the German diploma works, your degree is the rough equivalent of a UK BSc+MSc (or BA+MA if you're in the arts). I would say, "My Austrian five-year diploma (Diplomingenieur is the rough equivalent of...".

Completing your higher education on schedule is expected in the UK. There's no need to mention this. It might even raise eyebrows if you did.
posted by caek at 5:44 AM on November 3, 2010

One other thing: again assuming you did a significant research thesis project in your last year or two, your diploma is almost certainly better than a UK MPhys, which is a four year undergraduate degree intended to compete with continental diplomas. This is the standard physics undergrad qualification at good UK universities nowadays, but it does not have the depth of the diploma (or of a separate UK BSc and a true MSc, for that matter).

There's no need to mention this, but make sure you don't sell yourself short by saying you have the equivalent of an MPhys. Your degree ≈ BSc+MSc.
posted by caek at 5:54 AM on November 3, 2010

Can you convert your grade into a class rank when you talk about it in your cover letter?

"I was in the top 5% of my graduating class" (or "top 1%," or whatever it is) should be clear to anyone, anywhere, regardless of the grading system they're familiar with.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:54 AM on November 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

For Switzerland, you don't need to explain anything further once you write down your 1.16 (whoa, good work!) and "mit Auszeichnung." They have the same system, and they know exactly what a Dipl. Ingenieur has studied so far.

See above for the UK :)

Feel free to MeMail me for specific Swiss job application information.
posted by copperbleu at 6:29 AM on November 3, 2010

Is there anyone at your university whose job it is to advise students who are trying to find jobs? If so, you should talk to them. You're probably not the first person to have this problem.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:35 AM on November 3, 2010

For the UK, I'd say something like this...

"I have a 5-year Physics degree from the Univ of X, with a specialism in Y. This is equivalent to a British MSc or MPhys with Distinction."

Because it's good to keep it brief and memorable, you want them to know that you are at the same level as UK Masters grads, and that you excelled at that level. People at that level would often be expected to have some areas of specialism, so if you do, those would be useful to mention.

If you want to be sure you're making a fair comparison just check out the course contents of some UK MSc programmes.

My guess is if you get that message across, you will actually be at a small advantage to the average UK grad as you will stand out from the crowd a little and have a better chance of getting through the initial filtering stages.
posted by philipy at 10:43 AM on November 3, 2010

Keep things universal - the top X% is an excellent thing. Mentioning the specific areas you studies, papers you wrote, journals you were in, etc. is good.

Keep those distinctive factors - they really do raise your profile.
posted by chrisinseoul at 9:21 PM on November 3, 2010

Thanks, that was very helpful, especially caek's inter-academic comparison stuff. For everyone who suggested class rank, it seems that my university does not track this (or at least I have no way of finding out/reliably signalling this to employers).
posted by themel at 4:25 AM on November 4, 2010

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