If you are a student or new graduate just starting out, employers may look at one variable that can override any work experience you have – your grade point average (GPA).
As a career advisor working with students seeking internships and their first jobs out of college, I help people navigate the GPA issue a lot. I have done this for over 15 years.
I have also worked as a recruiter. So, I have seen both sides of this issue.
2 Employer Perspectives About Your GPA
Through my work, I have noticed two fundamentally different camps in how hiring managers and employers consider GPA.
1. For some employers, GPA matters a great deal.
This emphasis applies even if the position you aspire to fill has nothing to do with what you’ve studied.
This is especially true for highly-selective organizations such as financial services firms, Fortune 500 companies and consultancies.
The rationale behind this view: Grades reflect your understanding of what you studied –- and the level of effort you put into your work.
2. Other employers may tell you GPA doesn’t matter.
It’s the degree and/or the work experience that counts for them. So…
- Sometimes having a degree is enough to get you through the first application review and into the interview pile.
- The challenge: Even when employers say this, GPA can still serve as a tie-breaker when an employer is deciding between two candidates.
How Much Does GPA Really Matter? It Depends…
I have seen some employers say one thing, then do another.
- I have heard employers say, “We don’t have a minimum GPA” and “We aren’t looking for a specific GPA.”
- Then, I have observed lists of interviewees in which all of the candidates selected for interviews have a GPA that is over a certain threshold.
I have seen candidates succeed in the job market regardless of GPA setbacks. This article provides strategies on how to do this – even after you have graduated.
3 Strategies to Tell a Positive Story for a GPA Under 3.0
My general advice:
If you’ve graduated from college in the last three years, list your cumulative GPA IF it is a 3.0 or above. Because if you don’t publish your GPA, employers could – and likely will – assume you have less than a 3.0 average.
Sometimes, success is hidden in the details. There are ways to bring this out.
1. What were your commitments as a student? How did you spend your time?
If you worked or participated in activities that occupied more than 15 hours a week, that information should be documented on your resume.
“Worked an average of ___ hours per week during term to pay for educational and living expenses”
Trained and competed ___ per week in season; trained ___ hours per week off-season
2. Was your Major GPA higher?
List the number of courses you completed in your major, total up your grades and course values…
For example, if you received an A (4.0) for a three credit course, your points for the course would be 12. Divide the total number of points by the number of courses in your major that you took, and you have calculated your “major GPA.”
Make sure this math includes all courses required for your major that are listed in your academic transcript.
Generally, courses taken for a major are listed with the same department code. If there are additional requirements outside the department that factor into your calculation, you can say “including <<course name>>”
3. If your GPA improved over time, calculate and present your GPA by time period.
Calculate GPA for each academic period you plan to include, then divide by number of courses. Present the GPA for the selected time period – and include the number of classes used for your calculation.
Example: If you earned a 3.5 GPA for 8 classes taken in your senior year, and a GPA of 2.5 for 8 classes in your junior year, you have two options:
GPA (Fall 2017 – Spring 2018): 3.5 (8 Courses)
GPA (Fall 2016 – Spring 2018): 3.0 (16 Courses)
You can tell this story. Grab your transcript, calculate the math, and give your alternate version.
Sample Formats for Both Resume
Here are samples of this alternate format:
- By Major GPA (# of major courses in parentheses)
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. Cumulative GPA 3.1/4.0. Major GPA 3.5/4.0 (14 courses)
- By Time Period (# of major courses in parentheses)
Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Bachelor of Arts in History.
GPA 2016 – 2018: 3.7/4.0 (20 courses). Cumulative GPA 3.2/4.0.
Dean’s List 2016-2018.
Benefits of This Strategy
This strategy benefits all parties:
- Employers get the GPA.
- You get to demonstrate your strengths in a particular area or your ability to improve grades over time. (Note: If Cumulative GPA is still under 3.0, leave it off.)
I once helped Craig, a student who earned a 4.0 his last two years of college, use this strategy to land a full-time position with a Wall Street investment bank. As many financial services firms have minimum GPA requirements, he likely would not have gotten an interview if GPA had been left off the resume or if he had simply presented his overall cumulative average.
The Bottom Line
You can present an alternate narrative on your resume to showcase your GPA. If you choose to do this, provide additional information that enables employers to duplicate your math. With this strategy, you can share the story that highlights your accomplishments – and accurately reflects your abilities and successes without misleading employers.
More About Job Search for New Grads:
- 7 Deadly Resume Mistakes for New Grads to Avoid
- 3 Steps to Job Search Success for New Grads
- The Secret to Applying for Jobs After College
- Why LinkedIn Is NOT Optional for New Grads
- The Top 25 Keywords for Your Job Search
- Your Most Important Keywords
About the author…
E. Chandlee Bryan, M.Ed.(@chandlee) is a career advisor at Dartmouth College. A certified career coach and resume writer, Chandlee’s experience includes working as a recruiter, facilitating one of Manhattan’s largest job search meetups, and serving as the resume expert for a national Microsoft campaign. She is a co-author of The Twitter Job Search Guide (JIST 2010).
More about this author…