Let’s talk GPA.

21 07 2009

Let’s talk about it.  Really.  Let’s just get it out there.

Grade Point Averages.  What the heck are they about?  Do employers care?  Do they not?

When I was in college, I was told:  Employer’s don’t look at your GPA.  I don’t know why they even give you one.  They don’t matter.

Here’s what I know now. That’s not always true. If you’re a new grad applying to jobs, your GPA does matter to many companies, especially the most competitive ones. It’s one of many factors they consider when they are considering you (as a whole package). Here’s why. If you’re a new grad, your GPA can tell an employer that:

  1. You applied yourself the last 4 years in school.
  2. You are possibly intellectually curious.
  3. You were doing other important things that may have affected your GPA.

If you can show that you are all these things without a GPA, then that’s great!  But, the truth is employers do glance at your GPA if you’re a new grad.

Bill Gates (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Bill Gates (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Let’s take Bill Gates, for example.  He does not have a final college GPA, because he dropped out in 1975.  Despite being a college drop out, Bill Gates is the epitome of intellectual curiosity.  As a child, he read the encyclopedia from start to end.  Nearly done with his degree, he said, “I’m over this.  I’ve learned all that I can learn and I need to move on.”  Clearly he won’t have a GPA to offer a “future employer”.  (For curious people, read the WSJ article on his childhood here.)

He moved on to found Microsoft, one of the leading tech companies in the world, valued at $218 billion USD (as of today).  You’d think this man has a sweet life and could just kick up his heels and cruise through life, never touching a book again. FALSE.

Bill Gates is a lifelong learner.  To stay on top of the tech field, he takes an annual retreat (for one month) where he reads all of the academic journals on computing and other interesting topics.  The same things that we moan and groan about having to read for our classes…. Bill Gates reads for leisure (and fun)!

I welcome the Microsofties to add more about this topic.

If I interviewed Bill Gates and said, “Bill, I noticed that you never finished your degree at Harvard.  Tell me what made you decide to leave?”  I bet he would be able to tell me exactly why.

Now, about you.  If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably not trying to be a Bill Gates (You could be, but you should probably start working on your venture, and stop worrying about getting a job!)  The point is, don’t throw away your academics, because you think it doesn’t matter (as Ryan puts it, “Don’t suck in school”). Keep up your grades as much as you can and care about your own success in college.

The REAL point is the learning should never stop. Take extra courses and read books that continue to enhance your knowledge about various subject matters even if you’re out of school.  Take a computer course, buy a book and teach yourself.  Whatever keeps your skills sharp and current (like Bill Gates) is vital for being successful during the interview, in the job, and in your career.

Continue to do well in school and dedicate your life to learning–you’re bright, you’re young, and you should continue to expand your mind!

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21 responses

21 07 2009
bumscientist

I wouldn’t put Mark Zuckerberg in the same sentence as Bill Gates, Larry or Sergey. For technical jobs, your resume probably won’t advance far unless you have a 3.8 or above at a job fair. I was never told in college that GPA doesn’t matter. I was told, A -> designer, B -> tester, C -> sales. I think it really depends on the job. For any type of technical job, I’d probably hire someone with a high GPA, but for sales and marketing, you’re looking for creative people with good soft skills. You don’t need a good GPA to be successful, but if you want a job, it would be nice.

21 07 2009
steflau

Haha! I agree with you, Bumscientist, but I did it anyway! Larry, Sergey, and Bill are in a different league than Mark Zuckerberg, but nevertheless, they all left school to pursue their own companies.

I also agree that GPAs vary by function, role, industry, and company. The point being. There’s no real secret sauce here. The better you do, the better you fare, but you have to be more than the number on the paper. Everything else you learn in school about interacting, communicating, practical hard skills, etc. are just as important as the number on that page. (See Ryan’s comment on the “About you” page.)

When you are a new grad, you probably won’t have a lot of consistent work experience. Your longest standing example of your work is your GPA. It’s a reflection of 4-years of dedicated work to yourself. That’s why it’s ONE of the MANY important factors in a job application. I’m definitely with you on that one.

I have actually seen different bars for a variety of roles (Marketing, Sales, HR, Legal, Finance, Engineering). But these people are more than just a number on the paper. They were able to articulate why and how they got that grade in that class that lowered their GPA and they were able to show, in other ways, how they were academically inclined or intellectually curious.

Side note: All GPAs are not created equal (ie. private v. public school average GPAs can differ by several tenths of a point). Do your homework. Find out what the average GPA is in your school, in your major, and why you are at or above or below the average. If you’re below the average, don’t worry–life is not over. But you might want to consider looking for smaller companies or companies that value your experience over academics.

Go on, folks! Love school, love learning.

28 08 2011
FJ Androski

B is tester? You know nothing!!!

28 08 2011
Stefanie

Not sure what you mean by this…

22 07 2009
Arron

Cmon you left out one of the best..Steve Jobs. And seriously Mark Zuckerberg is nothing compared to any of them.

22 07 2009
steflau

totally! I should be on it with Steve Jobs–haven’t heard a ton about his personal history, but I am sure it totally fits. I should completely strike Mark Zuckerberg from the comparison. No one seems to like the guy!

4 08 2009
Abdul-Rahman

Reallly interesting article….

but seriously– does you GPA reflect how well you can perform in a job if what you learn in school doesnt’ particularly apply to what you’ll be working in (most of the times)?

i understand from an employer’s perspective how a GPA can serve as a selection tool in narrowing down candidates, but in all honesty–it can be highly dependant on so many other things (whether you have a strong study network/ get good professors etc..)

I’m currently an undergrad looking onward to get a Masters next yr. It’s irritating for me to see how much weight some of the companies and universities place (consulting companies) on your GPA vs your experience— your story through what you learned in college.

What do you think?

4 08 2009
steflau

Hi Abdul-Rahman,

If a company is doing it right, the GPA should be just one of many factors that they consider when looking at your overall package. The point is, your resume is supposed to reflect all of you and each company weighs traits differently.

Think leadership. What does this mean and how do you exude leadership throughout your resume?
How about organizational abilities? How does your resume reflect your ability to organize your thoughts and convey your talents?
How about your direct experience? Translatable experience? What on your resume is directly related to the kinds of skills they need on the job.

Unfortunately, for consulting companies, your biggest asset is your ability to solve really complex problems. Hence, your brain. What most clearly speaks brains on a resume? Your GPA. If you are bright and have other brainy distinctions or awards, put them on your resume. When it comes to different industries, the “one size fits all” resume won’t work. Especially in scarce hiring times!

Create slightly modified versions of your resume for different industries. And of course, a strong “catch all” resume for everything else.

Good luck, Abdul-Rahman!

28 08 2011
FJ Androski

The GPA means nothing. The majority of people who get an ‘A’ in a course learned nothing from it in terms of being able to apply the knowledge. 20 years ago some employers looked at GPA, now they look for actual practical experience not how well you did in some abstracted busywork class taught by a professor who couldn’t cut it in the real world as a software engineer.

28 08 2011
Stefanie

First, don’t knock professors. Teaching is one of the most noble professions in society.

Yes, experience should absolutely offset academics. I hate grade inflation and other injustices of a GPA, too. I think it’s a highly inaccurate representation of someone’s intelligence. But here’s the thing. Most of the time, new grads don’t have a lot of experience outside of their last 4 years at school. With a 9.2% unemployment rate in the U.S., whatever new grads can do to make themselves stand out, the better off they are in the end. And sometimes that means doing well in school.

28 08 2011
FJ Androski

There is a HUGE difference between education and knowledge. Education is what takes place in school where you memorize and barf it back. Knowledge is what takes place outside of college.

When an employer says a GPA of 4.0 on a resume, they either think 1)This person spent too much time on trivial maters or 2)Easy school, grade inflation, parents had money to pay for expensive tutors.

28 08 2011
Stefanie

I don’t know that I agree there’s a huge difference between knowledge and education. I think that the point is never stop learning. If you can demonstrate that you’re smart in a different way, perhaps outside of school, then make sure it shows on your resume. I also think that every employer is different when it comes to what they look for. Perhaps where you are they are turned off by strong academics.

15 11 2011
Diane

GPA does stand for something, but business tend to over look the GPA if a individual has the knowledge. You will also find a individual not so good with the book knowledge but has the hands on knowledge to perform the job.

29 10 2012
gobruins

grades only reflect how much you applied yourself at one given time in the past. They don’t measure constant qualities that are ever-present in an individual. They don’t measure how hard of a worker you are NOW, nor how much knowledge you have NOW. Even those who get A’s in certain classes tend to forget much of what they learned over the summer. you also have to consider other factors such as the rigor of the program and the school, as well as any trends someone had; maybe they did a lot better during their last two years compared to the first two. the last two years are the ones that really matter anyways since you’re not taking a bunch of irrelevant fluff classes anymore.

30 12 2012
Stefanie

Gobruins, that’s my story exactly. My overall GPA is terrible, but the story that my entire transcript tells is more balanced and shows a progression in my learning experience during college. If you think your transcript can tell a different/better story, then you may want to offer that to an employer for the full picture.

16 11 2012
Luther

all the time i used to read smaller articles which as well clear their
motive, and that is also happening with this post which I am reading at this place.

Luther

29 01 2013
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12 02 2013
Bettie

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28 04 2013
Stefanie

Hi Bettie,

As you can tell, I haven’t written in a while! More than anything, I look for an inspirational story or reflect on a meaningful experience that I’ve had. I don’t really clear my thoughts—rather I let them flow freely on the page and then I curate and clean them up.

Hope that helps a little bit. Keep up the writing, though!

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28 04 2013
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