When it comes to resumes, if you ask 100 people for advice, you will receive 110 different recommendations. One of those may be whether or not to include your GPA on your resume. What goes on a resume and what doesn’t varies depending on exact position, industry and location. As a college student, you may find the lack of standardized guidelines confusing, since you want to know how to create the perfect resume that will land you the dream job. You may think that attending a well-regarded institution and maintaining a high GPA will automatically get you the position you want. Or, you may be worried that a low GPA guarantees that you are destined for a job you don’t actually like. Neither statement is necessarily true.
Why Do Employers Ask for Your GPA?
“For the most part, employers ask for your GPA to weed people out,” says Sara Jaques, associate director for employer relations (finance) at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. They care about GPA when they don’t know who you are and are looking for metrics to help them evaluate your qualifications, potential and readiness for the position. Whether you like it or not, GPA is one such metric.
If you are a college student or a recent graduate with limited to no professional experience, you probably will need to include your GPA on your resume -- and the employer will probably ask for it in the job description. “Hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of candidates may apply for a single position, and the recruiter or hiring manager needs an objective way to narrow down the applicant pool to candidates he/she would like to interview,” says Jaques.
Another instance in which GPA may be important is when applying for positions in certain fields where academic achievement is regarded highly. For example, to be considered for even entry-level positions in big consulting firms, a high GPA is often vital. In such cases, reviewers use GPA as a marker of hard work, determination and drive.
Keep in mind that what goes on your resume needs to be relevant and valuable to the employers you are targeting.
- If you are applying for jobs that require a certain GPA -- and you have that GPA -- list it on your resume. Otherwise, reviewers may assume it’s lower and that’s why you left it out.
- “If your major GPA is higher than your cumulative GPA, consider adding that one instead as it is most relevant to the position you are applying for,” Jaques recommends.
- If your GPA is lower than 3.5 and the job description does not specifically ask for it, leave it off but be prepared to talk about it.
What If You Don’t Want to Reveal Your GPA?
“If a certain GPA is listed (and required) in the job description and you fail to put it on your resume, then you most likely won’t get selected for an interview,” says Jaques. When you are worried that your GPA may be low, it is even more important to highlight your accomplishments outside of academics. “If you have relevant experience while in college or after you graduate, employers really aren’t going to care about your GPA,” Jaques adds.
At that point, your professional experience and accomplishments say more about your ability and potential than your college GPA might. Do not wait until you graduate, though, to gain relevant experience and skills. Your courses and grades are not the only takeaways from a college experience. Consider engaging with student clubs, joining competitions or even volunteering abroad. “I am seeing more and more employers value extracurricular/internship experience over high GPA,” says Jaques. “If you have a high GPA but haven’t actually done anything else, many employers will not view you as a strong candidate.”
Whether a certain GPA is required for a position or not, you may be asked about it in an interview and you should be prepared with a polished response. Remember, only you can tell your story in a way that convinces hiring managers you are worth investing in as a candidate. Be honest with yourself first and practice with your career coach or mentor. “Have an explanation (not an excuse) for why your GPA is low,” says Jaques. Avoid placing blame on professors or other external circumstances. “Instead, focus on your out-of-class contributions and consider highlighting an improvement of your GPA through your years in college,” Jaques adds. “Being able to talk about your weaknesses in a way that shows growth can demonstrate high EQ and authenticity ... two qualities all employers value!”
“If you have a low GPA, it’s not the end of the world,” Jaques points out. “Control your story and create a narrative that reflects your strengths.” When your GPA is not stellar because you decided to devote some time on other experiences like community work, competitions, club leadership or a part-time job to support yourself, be prepared to tell that story. Perhaps you were not as excited about your general electives, but you showed focus and determination in your core classes. Or, perhaps you opted to take courses with instructors who challenged you to stretch and learn, with no guarantee for an easy A.
Whatever the story, be prepared to tell it in a way that clearly reveals the learning that took place and the potential you currently have. The end result is the most important: The fact that you overcame whatever circumstances you faced as a college student and persevered nonetheless. It does not really matter what happened; what tells a more complete story is the context in which it happened and the way you handled it.
Regardless of what your GPA is, if your search strategy is diverse and includes more than submitting applications online, you are more likely to secure positions you are excited about. And this is when I have to mention networking. Connecting with influencers and allowing them to get to know you is a great way of bypassing requirements like a high GPA. “You’d be able to showcase your interpersonal skills and maybe even explain your GPA before applying to a position,” says Jaques. “Referrals beat out a low GPA any day.” Always remember: Your GPA is not what determines your success in securing a meaningful position you enjoy.