Kyle Bures is a learning center coordinator and academic advisor. In this article, Kyle shares how recent graduates can overcome GPA concerns in their job search.
You're heading into the home stretch and graduation looms large. Beaming with confidence, you embark on your search for that first real job. The only chink in your armor is that pesky ‘F’ (or perhaps, family of ‘C’s or a few ‘D’s) on your transcript. Naturally, you're left to wonder how that will impact your attractiveness to employers as an applicant.
As an academic advisor, I field this question often. The difficulty in answering is that the context of the situation and the individual can alter how a potential employer may perceive such a blemish on your record.
It can also depend on the specific industry you're trying to join. Some industries care a lot about your GPA. For example, you might find that a job in pharmaceutical research and development has a strict GPA requirement, while one as a software developer focuses more on the quality of your code. In fact, a tech job at a startup or a social media gig at a big brand might not involve you sharing your GPA at all.
Before getting too worked up about including your transcripts, take a moment to reflect on the context of your own situation as it applies to your career search, and consider these effective counters.
The situation: You have one ‘F’ on your transcript.
On most of the search committees I’ve served on, this situation doesn’t tend to garner much attention, especially if the overall GPA is a 3.8. In that case, you might be paranoid for no reason. That is unless the said course pertains directly to the job. Are you applying for a Payroll Accountant position with an ‘F’ in Payroll Accounting your senior year, or did you get a poor grade in North American Indian Archaeology? (Hey, that class was difficult). The way in which a hiring manager will likely approach these two scenarios might be diametrically different.
Either way, you should always be prepared to discuss a low mark should it come up in an interview. So how do you counter? The key here is to remember that employers have no interest in hearing excuses. Accept responsibility for the grade and don't blame others (such as the instructor). Even better, demonstrate what you did to improve yourself in response to the low grade.
Pro tip: In any case, relay what you learned from the experience. Sometimes a singular letter grade is not a true reflection of the learning that took place.
The situation: You have a low cumulative GPA.
This situation may be more cause for concern. Nonetheless, your approach in answering questions about your GPA can go a long way in dispelling any lingering concern an employer may have. Chances are prospective employers will treat low GPA transcripts with a bit more scrutiny, with the following questions in mind: Were your low grades isolated to a certain period of time, or group of classes? Does this record speak toward your character and ability?
These are legitimate concerns, so you should be prepared with equally legitimate counters. An effective approach in this type of situation would be to paint a broader picture. In the professional world, you will likely be balancing a number of projects and responsibilities at any given moment. Perhaps lower grades were just a piece of the puzzle. Were you involved in other projects, internships, or student organizations during that same time frame in which you can provide concrete results that are more positive? If so, have those examples ready.
Another effective strategy might be to discuss adjustments that were made. An instance I encounter frequently is a student who attended college initially with poor performance, only to return later with a markedly more motivated approach. Use this to your advantage. Did you realize your true passion when you changed majors? Was an extenuating circumstance contributing to your initial academic performance? Tell that story as a way to present your evolution into a successful student.
Pro tip: Identify themes on your transcript and be prepared to speak toward your strengths that may be unique from other applicants that tie directly to the position you are vying for. For example, “my grades that term contributed to a lower GPA, but the study abroad experience was spent learning and experiencing the new culture and I became more fluent in a foreign language.”
When to add and not to add your GPA
One thing to remember is that your GPA doesn't necessarily have to be present in your resume. Take cues from the job description to decide whether or not you include it, especially if you're not confident with the number.
The telltale signs of a company that doesn't care about GPA will be either obvious or hidden. Some companies will outright tell you in their job descriptions or their careers pages that they prefer to judge you on your prior experience in projects and internships rather than on your GPA. Others will simply not mention GPA in the job description.
Use this information to judge whether you should put your GPA on your resume, and how much emphasis you should put on your education in general. If it seems important to the company, include it and put your education front and center. If not, keep it off and favor your work experience over your transcript.
Whatever the case may be, put a positive spin on it. Grades are an important piece of the puzzle in many employers’ eyes, but not the only piece. Perhaps most important is how you respond to that adversity, not just that you experienced it.