Does your college GPA matter in the job search? Learn whether your undergraduate grades matter for your career, and how to address grades on your resume and in job applications.
You’ve been studying all week for tomorrow’s exam. While scoring below an A on one college test isn’t the end of the world, it may affect your grade point average — which you’ve been working tirelessly to keep up since middle school. You know GPA matters, because it’s enabled you to get here.
But how important is GPA to your job prospects?
The role your GPA plays may vary according to how well you’ve done in college, and the industries that interest you.
A High GPA (3.5–4.0+)
Congratulations! A high grade point average is no small accomplishment. It indicates hard work, dedication, and commitment to your academic success — all qualities that matter to employers.
You can compete.
Sectors such as finance, tech, accounting, and engineering still use GPA as a key metric in their initial evaluations of candidates. Some even ask for SAT scores! These domains are highly competitive, and your GPA is one of the principal indicators of your competence.
Such industries also consider GPA because they are among the most popular fields for recent graduates — and GPAs provide an easy shorthand for Human Resources departments to whittle down large candidate pools.
According to Amir, a recent Rutgers Business School graduate who secured a coveted consulting position at PricewaterhouseCoopers: “I think GPAs are very important. It’s an initial indicator on how valuable a candidate is, especially when one is applying for the job online.”
Still, high grades aren’t that unusual.
According to a report by the Teachers College Record, an A average is more common than you think. When considering the evolution of grading across a wide spectrum of schools over the past 70 years, current data indicate that A’s represent 43% of all letter grades on average, which is an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. Grade inflation means that while your GPA will make you competitive, it won’t necessarily land you a job.
And GPA isn’t everything.
It’s important to remember that employers are looking for skills, qualities, and experiences that a GPA can’t always capture. To put it another way, your GPA may get you in the door, but it’s not going to close the deal. There are other factors — your creativity, interpersonal skills, critical thinking, and communication ability — that are likely to be far more relevant than the grades you received in college coursework.
Leadership, special projects, related work, or internship experience — these are what will help you maintain your lead.
An Acceptable GPA (3.0–3.4)
While a GPA in this range isn’t outstanding, it does demonstrate competence. And there are other ways for you to stand out!
Focus on leadership.
Jerome Joseph, Dean of Students at Leadership Prep Brownsville (part of the Uncommon School network) and former Teach for America Associate of District and Community Partnerships, has also emphasized the importance of leadership.
“I came into teaching as a TFA corps member, so my GPA was a fairly significant consideration when I was offered a spot. I had a 3.2 major in biology, which I think was solid but nothing that blew people away. I had a lot of intangibles that I think set me apart, such as serving as Vice President of the Student Government Association at Howard University.”
The National Association of Colleges and Employees (NACE) agrees, citing leadership roles as more influential than GPA when evaluating a college graduate’s candidacy.
Build relevant experience.
GPAs can serve as predictors of success, but there is no more important measure to employers than actual experience. Having relevant work experience is critical to post-college success. As reported in the Daily Free Press in 2013, the Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media’s Marketplace found that relevant work experience is more important than college grades to prospective employers, noting:
“Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.”
Expand your network.
Remember that a GPA in this mid-range doesn’t automatically disqualify you from working at a large company or in a competitive industry; it just means you need to network. “I would say a high GPA definitely helps, but the connections you make are way more important,” says Jabe, a junior at Drexel University and a marketing intern at Fox Rothschild.
Networking is not a practice to be fearful of, but is rather an important skill to master for career success — and networking is becoming easier as the job hunt is becoming increasingly social. According to a LinkedIn report on 2015 global recruiting staffing trends, social professional networks provide the best quality and quantity of placements.
NACE also confirms this trend in its 2016 Recruiting Benchmarks Survey, reporting that over half of employers who took part in the study used social media to find and reach out to prospective hires.
A Lower GPA (3.0 or below)
The general guideline is that you should leave a GPA lower than 3.0 off your resume (unless it is expressly requested by a prospective employer). That said, there may be extenuating circumstances to consider. Just because your GPA is lower than other candidates’, you’re not out of the running. Before you give in to the urge to tell a little white lie — which can come back to bite you if a hiring manager checks your transcript — consider a few scenarios.
What’s the reason?
Remember that you’re human, and employers are too. It can be difficult to balance academics with emergency situations: Did you deploy for military service? Did you take a leave for medical reasons? Did you have to take on full-time work? Each of these reasons can help employers put your GPA and candidacy in context.
What’s your major vs. overall GPA?
High achievement in all your courses is admirable, but it’s really your major GPA that matters most. Take the time to calculate each, and if your major GPA is higher, then include it (and specify that it’s your major GPA). Chances are that it captures the classes and competencies most relevant to the work you’re seeking anyway.
It’s worth repeating: Expand your network.
Networking is particularly important if your GPA is below a 3.0. Your GPA on its own may not earn you consideration, but networking will allow you to make connections and tell a fuller story of your strengths.
After Your First Job
Remember that experience usually trumps other factors when you’re applying for work. Hiring managers may look to GPA as a metric of success for recent graduates, but once you’ve been in the workforce for several years your most important credentials will be your accomplishments and experience. That is to say: You can remove your GPA after your first job.
“After two or three years, your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different. You’re also fundamentally a different person. You learn and grow, you think about things differently,” said Laszlo Bock, the co-founder and CEO of Humu and former Senior Vice President of People Operations for Google, in an interview with The New York Times.
A Final Word
Regardless of where your GPA falls on the four-point spectrum, remember that the post-college job hunt is about demonstrating your value and fit. Ensure that you have relevant experience and projects on your resume, a formidable skill set, and a solid professional network. No matter your GPA, these are the factors that employers value most.