Editor’s Note: We’re happy to bring this post by Rich Grant, which originally appeared on RichCareer.net, to the YouTern community. Clearly, this is a topic worthy of further discussion by all stakeholders.
Does your GPA matter to recruiters?
Among the hot button issues swirling around higher education … unpaid internships, what’s the value of a degree, and shouldn’t colleges do more to prepare students for the real world … the significance of GPA is right up there.
The short answer to the question is: “it depends”.
Some employers look at grade point averages during the screening process, sometimes asking for a minimum GPA even to apply. Other employers say GPA doesn’t matter.
My opinion is somewhere in the middle, and I would stress that it’s not GPA that’s important, but the work that goes into it. That is, students should not strive for a GPA as the number in and of itself, but strive to do good work and learn something. It’s the work that results in students increasing knowledge, building skills and gaining a broader perspective on the world around them. And this level knowledge will reveal itself in the job interview.
I remember distinctly, three years ago in my career services office, I helped two seniors who accepted good jobs within two months after graduating. In both cases, I contacted the employers on their behalf. It didn’t matter to me (or apparently the employers) that their GPAs were below 3.0. They possessed great people skills, were smart, articulate, savvy, and had a great work ethic. That same year, one of our graduates with a 3.7 struggled to get a job six months after graduating. He didn’t carry himself professionally, but wow, could he crack a book!
About a year later, I read a brilliant blog post by Dave Ellis, Community Manager and Content Manager for YouTern. In The Savvy Intern blog, he wrote Your GPA Sucks… and I Will Hire You Anyway. The title says it all; however, I would encourage you to read it. “I wouldn’t count on it (GPA) getting you a job when you’re competing against someone perhaps less book-smart – but who is a better communicator, problem-solver and has more practical experience,” wrote Ellis.
Nevertheless, I don’t want students to get the message that doing well in school is not important. I think students should work hard in school… after all, that’s their job. When people work in “real jobs,” we expect them to focus on their work, complete what’s asked of them, and achieve tangible results.
Unfortunately, today’s students are getting mixed messages about the importance of doing well in school, particularly as it relates to getting a good job. Many employers ask for transcripts and consider grades in their decisions. Other employers, most famously Google, claim there’s no correlation between GPA and job performance. So, what’s a student to do? Should college students focus on beefing up their GPA? (This would probably be a good add-on to my blog The Answer to Most Career Questions: It Depends)
Part of it depends on whether the student is just focusing on the GPA as a number, or if the student is truly striving for excellence. Some students haggle with professors over grades, hoping to eke out a few points here and there. Or, they take on extra credit projects. They are missing the point. GPA should not be the end… the skills and accomplishments from doing good work are what’s important. Employers need to focus on that too, and not split hairs about a 2.8 vs. a 3.5.
Part of it depends on what the student wants to do after graduating. If the answer is law, medical or graduate school, then, yes GPA is important. If the student wants to be in engineering, finance or accounting (or other similar fields), then, yes GPA is important. If the student wants to be an actuary, then he or she had better nail statistics.
Danyel Rupert, a human resources consultant in North Carolina, believes that academic achievement is a good indicator of how well students will do in the work place, but she acknowledges that not all employers feel that way. “When I place students in internships that will be a gateway to their career, I want to know they have the academic background needed for the assigned projects,” says Rupert. “It’s important that the students can connect what they do in the classroom to what they are expected to do in the workplace.”
The issue of GPA is complex, points out Mark Babbitt, CEO and founder of YouTern. Babbitt says that old-school industries still rely on GPA whereas more contemporary employers see GPA as an artificial metric. As Babbitt has said many times in blog posts or on Twitter chats, employers don’t hire people to be “students.” Employers need to hire people who know how to get things done. He makes the point that there are several more important factors to consider first, primarily those all-important soft skills that a 4.0 might not take the time to develop.
I think part of the problem in today’s world of hiring is that job seekers are reduced to a piece of paper. I’m sure applicant tracking systems are a must-have tool, but unfortunately good candidates get sucked into the ATS black hole. Networking is so critically important, both for the job seeker and for the employers. One commenter to Ellis’s blog about GPA wrote that she took a risk on an applicant with a sub-par GPA because she met the applicant through networking and saw potential. But, she said, she wouldn’t have taken the risk on the resume alone.
As I mentioned in the beginning, my stand on GPA is somewhere in the middle of being a key indicator and not mattering at all. I do not believe it is the indicator, but it is an indicator. Don’t put blinders on and screen people based on GPA, but if all things are equal, why not take the new grad with the buffed up GPA? Babbitt acknowledges the validity in this line of thinking. “I’ll take a student with a 2.9 GPA that can build relationships, self-learn and a healthy set of soft skills over a GPA with none of those ‘get the job done now’ skills,” says Babbitt.
He continues to say, “Show me a 4.0 student with ALL of those skills, however, and I’ll show you a job offer.”
About the Author: Rich Grant has a background in writing and editing, business planning, and higher education. Rich is the current president of the Maine College Career Consortium and the former director of career services at a small four-year college in Maine. He is wrapping up a 10-month interim position as a career adviser and internship coordinator at a private college and is seeking his next role in business or higher education. Find Rich on LinkedIn and Twitter, and become a regular visitor to his blog where he imparts his words of wisdom once or twice a week.