When you’re in high school and thinking about getting accepted to the right colleges, few factors seem more important than your grade point average. For while many of the smaller colleges might have more relaxed grading standards for students who enroll, the more elite universities can afford to be more selective when it comes to performance criteria. But do those things matter as much beyond the college experience? For example, does GPA matter when you’re looking for a job?
The short answer to any question about whether employers care about your grades is “yes – and no.” The reality is that your grades are of real interest to some employers, and of little interest to others.
While that might seem strange, it’s important to understand that employers have different needs, different cultures, and different ways of evaluating whether an applicant will be a good fit for the firm. It’s important to understand why different companies have such differing views when it comes to the importance of your grade point average.
For larger and well-known companies like Ford and General Motors, GPA can be a very important factor for establishing baseline criteria for employment. Other large firms use similar hiring criteria, and for similar reasons. Many of these firms actively recruit on college campuses across the United States, and need a way to quickly differentiate between different groups of applicants Your grade point average offers a useful metric to accomplish that goal.
Smaller firms, startups, and less well-known companies are more apt to focus on core competencies and overall achievements, because they often lack the latitude that their larger peers enjoy when it comes to being overly selective with the pool of available talent. That doesn’t mean that a stellar GPA won’t still be viewed as an asset in the hiring process; it merely means that a less-than-stellar GPA may not eliminate you from contention.
There was a study done by the NACE which asked employers to rank the following factors:
All of that may have you wondering whether your grade point average even matters. After all, how important can it be if it’s not some universally-recognized criteria for hiring? The answer is simple, of course. Your GPA should matter – to you, to your family, and to potential employers. At the same, though, the relevance of your grade point average can vary, depending upon the type of job you’re pursuing, the industry you want to work in, and your actual academic achievement. Consider this:
A high GPA is typically defined as being somewhere between a 3.5 and 4.0. As every college student and graduate knows, maintaining that level of academic achievement is a feat that is worthy of praise. It demonstrates a commitment to the type of excellence that most employers want to see with new hires. It’s important to recognize that only a relatively small portion of graduates achieve this level of excellence – which is why it makes such a great benchmark for large companies that want to effectively reduce the number of applicants with whom they must contend.
Companies that rely on this level of excellence in GPA during the hiring process tend to be in highly competitive industries like finance, accounting, and technology. For those industries, new grad hires can really only be evaluated based on what they achieved during their educational years, and that places the grade point average front-and-center for consideration. If you want to be competitive in the marketplace, and are planning to pursue a career in a highly competitive field, it’s important to maintain focus on achieving a high GPA to ensure that you properly position yourself to compete with your peers.
But what if your grade point average isn’t that high? What if it’s somewhere between a 3.0 and a 3.5? While a more moderate GPA might not be something that you can easily boast about in the same way that you could if it were in that higher range, you still have nothing to be ashamed of. After all, any GPA over a 3.0 clearly demonstrates competence, and an ability to commit to getting the job done. But will an employer care about that GPA?
The answer is probably no, but it depends on the company. There are many larger firms that have an interest in hiring competent applicants, and a 3.0 or higher GPA is definitely indicative of competence. However, if your grades aren’t in that rarified upper echelons of the GPA universe, you need to recognize that you may need more than a solid GPA to get hired by some firms. Fortunately, there are other things that you can do to make yourself a more attractive candidate – and possibly even beat out other candidates with much more impressive academic portfolios:
Most experts recommend that you forget about including any GPA less than 3.0 on your resume. We tend to agree, but also recommend that you consider all the reasons why your GPA might be lower than what some employers expect to see. It may be that you’ve had to work to support yourself or your family during your college years. An unexpected family emergency may have caused you to be stretched too thin. Or perhaps your major courses were successfully managed, but you struggled to keep up with other subjects.
You can sometimes get away with listing your GPA when it’s in that lower range, but it’s generally only wise to do it if you have a high GPA for your major courses. Never list your overall GPA if it’s below 3.5, unless specifically instructed to do so.
Even then, you may want to simply list the grade point average for classes related to your major, and only when they are above that 3.5 range. If you do end up doing that, however, be sure to note that the listed GPA is for those specific classes.
As with the moderate-level GPA, you should focus on emphasizing things other than your GPA when you are preparing your resume. This begins during the college years, and requires you to build a network and base of experience that can offset your less-than-stellar grades. That should be relatively easy to do, since you’ll have a good idea of where your GPA is likely to be long before you graduate.
While your GPA is important to employers, it is critical that you keep certain things in mind as you begin to build your resume:
The bottom line is easy to understand. Your GPA can make a big difference in your initial post-college job hunting effort, but it’s not always the sole determining factor. To ensure that your grade point average works to your benefit rather than your detriment, focus on developing a well-rounded resume that can showcase all your life accomplishments and core competencies to highlight why you’re the best candidate for the position.