GPA (grade-point average) evokes mixed feelings among students. For those who have earned high grades, GPA is a ticket to a bright future. For those with low grades, it is a demon waiting to crush their job prospects. The reality about GPA is somewhere in between: some companies, including a few of the most prestigious ones, set great store by it. Others don’t take it quite so seriously at all.
For recruiters who take GPA into account, it is a first indication of how valuable a job applicant if hired as an employee. At least some of them are inclined to take GPA as the main yardstick as they themselves did well in college, and naturally have faith in it. They say that college is the closest thing to the professional and business world that young people experience. How well they did there indicates how well they can perform in a job, they argue.
According to these recruiters, a student with a high GPA has shown that she can focus on tasks, handle pressure, learn quickly, and is motivated to succeed. They say these are all qualities that are needed to do a job well in any organization, and it is a safe bet to hire candidates with these qualities.
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Some sectors and companies do prefer to see GPAs on resumes. For accounting, education, finance, health, and law sectors, GPA is a big thing. They see it as a key indicator of the candidate’s competence and use it a shortlisting tool. An NYU official was quoted as saying that top investment banks, big professional services companies, and pharmaceuticals are keen on seeing GPA mentioned in resumes. According to Purdue officials, many big companies that hire on the campus, such as GM, Caterpillar, and Ford, wish to see GPA included in resumes.
Some companies that take GPA into account for hiring, use it mainly to shortlist candidates, that is, as a method to whittle down the applicant pool. Some consider applications only from those with a GPA of 3.0-3.3 and above. A few top companies fix 3.5 as the cut-off point.
A director of recruiting for a professional services giant was quoted in a Forbes article that he expected to see GPA on the resumes of job candidates. “Grades certainly do matter when we are recruiting students. It’s really one of the only indications we have of a student’s technical ability or competence to do a job,” he said.
All things considered
But many firms don’t reject applications because of low GPAs. They listen to the applicant’s account about how they overcame challenges to achieve a college degree. Recruiters are aware that some legendary entrepreneurs did not go to school, much less manage to obtain high GPAs.
Although some employers insist on a GPA of at least 3.0 and some benchmark it at 3.5, others don’t have hard-and-fast rules. A candidate with a GPA of 2.1 could get selected for a job if he has a good reason for his low grade average; for example, if he was called up for military service during college.
A candidate with a GPA of 3.2 may get selected ahead of one with 3.9 if the former had to put herself through college and served as the class treasurer, for example. An applicant with a GPA of 3.5 with a part-time job and two internships may get the green signal ahead of one with a GPA of 4 but with little else to show. A student’s ability to handle different responsibilities may work more in her favor than a higher GPA alone.
A high GPA (3.5-4.0) signals to your recruiter that you were a hardworking, dedicated, and committed student. But an A grade will not make you stand out from the crowd, mind you.
Research indicates that As form 43 percent of all grades granted on average, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. “Grade inflation” makes you a competitive candidate with an A but may not a superstar applicant. [Read: Does American College Grading put International Students at a disadvantage in Graduate Admissions?]
A good grade may help you make the shortlist but employers may not use it further to evaluate you. They look for critical thinking, communication skills, interpersonal skills, creativity, and projects that you have completed that show your leadership and the ability to work in a team.
An “acceptable” GPA (3.0-3.4) indicates your competence but won’t make your recruiter sit up. If your GPA is in this range, you should have taken some role of responsibility in college, such as member of a student government, to impress the recruiter as a candidate who is not only competent but also possesses leadership skills.
Besides leadership, you need relevant work experience to further your case a little bit more. If your experience comes from having done internship in a relevant role in a good company, you earn extra points.
You can land that dream job in a large company despite a slightly lower GPA if you have managed to build connections and maintained networking. Social professional networks can be leveraged to find jobs. According to a recruiting survey, social networks are also being increasingly used by recruiters to identify potential hires.
Low GPA and how to get around it
If you have a GPA lower than 3, it doesn’t mean that you should forget about getting a good job and head for the Himalayas. The general advice is that it is better to leave out a GPA less than 3.0 from your resume unless a prospective employer has requested to see it.
Can you justify your GPA with genuine reasons? Did you face a medical emergency? Did you have to work full-time to put yourself through college? If yes, the recruiter may be willing to overlook the low GPA.
If you have a low overall GPA, and your major GPA is higher, then mention your major GPA. Your major GPA will be taken into consideration as your subjects would include areas relevant to the job you are applying for.
After your first job
After you have been recruited and spent a few years in an organization, your GPA would have lost relevance. From then on, what matters is your performance, achievements, and skills you have picked up at your workplace. You can more or less forget about your GPA. From now on, employers are going to rate you on the value that you bring to your organization.
Why grades don’t matter (that much)
Employers know about grade inflation. You may think you are among the top candidates because you have an A grade, but employers know you are probably among the better candidates but perhaps not a must-recruit applicant yet. They need to see more.
Moreover, there is no uniform approach to grading by letters across the US, according to a study by Teachers College Record, a few years ago.
Private colleges give more As and Bs combined than public institutions. Southern schools and science and engineering schools grade more stringently than schools in other regions and liberal arts colleges, respectively.
Many selective schools hand out so many higher grades that the grades don’t motivate students and don’t help employers in recruitment or officials of graduate/professional schools in admissions.
Another reason why GPA may not be so important to some recruiters is the problem of transcript accessibility. An employer in Washington, for example, is unlikely to be able or willing to get the grades of a candidate mailed from a New York college, as this is cumbersome and time-consuming.
Even with a great GPA, you may not find the job you are looking for, because of a lack of networking. If you don’t know people in your own alumni circle who have the resources to help and provide guidance, your high GPA won’t get you very far.
Among sectors where GPA doesn’t matter much are business (experience preferred); communication, journalism, and media (initiative, creativity, motivation); science, technology, engineering, and math (internship, experience). Students from these sectors usually have lower GPAs (studies say biology, chemistry, economics, and math are the majors that have the lowest college GPAs).
Smaller companies and start-ups don’t bother so much about GPAs. If your GPA is high, great; if not, OK: they look signs of drive and an ability to innovate. But of course, they take notice of a high GPA from a top school. Applicants are well-advised to write down their GPAs if they are good.
Why grades matter (at least a little)
A high GPA is proof that you can focus on tasks over a sustained period (through college), are conscientious and organized (time management skills), and can handle stress. GPA matters if you are low on internships: a high GPA could show that you can take responsibility and are a quick learner.
A high GPA also helps if you want to change careers but have no experience in the new field. It would also persuade your professors to give you great job-recommendation letters. You can also impress your recruiter at first glance with great academic credentials.
Companies see candidate with high GPAs as “low-risk hires.” They believe these candidates can swing through the learning curve and require much less hand-holding. That’s fewer dollars spent on training.
A blogger criticizes people who promote the “romanticized” idea that that college and GPA don’t matter anymore and their references to Zuckerberg, Jobs, and Gates. She refers to Michael Spence’s Nobel Prize-winning Theory of Honest Signaling and Theory of Education to argue that education matters. She also points to studies that found that each GPA point was worth 9.5 percent higher wages for whites and 25 percent for blacks.
Among sectors where GPA matters are education (the assumption is that to be a good teacher, you need to have been a good student), health (your ability to handle stress could mean the difference between life and death), and law (the higher the GPA, the better the candidate).
A blogger notes that it is your ability to put your low GPA in the context of your life situation while you were in college that will get you past a low GPA. Research the job requirements thoroughly and highlight your qualities that will help you do well in the role. It is not your past that is under the microscope but your qualities that will help you do well in the future.
That said, keep in mind that some companies do lay an emphasis on GPA. So the sensible approach would be to work as hard as possible for good grades in college. You are unlikely to be rejected for your high GPA.
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– Low GPA Success Stories
References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17