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How Important is Your GPA to Recruiters?

August 27, 2013

The Wall Street Journal ran an article by reporter Douglas Belkin this week titled "Are You Ready for the Post-College SAT?", discussing a new test called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, that seniors at roughly 200 colleges and universities across the country will be taking next spring, "to cut through grade-point averages and judge students' real value to employers." According to the article, employers "have grown skeptical of college credentials," which can be misleading given ongoing grade inflation and variations in course difficulty.

The story is part of a broader debate about the work-readiness of America’s graduates in light of soaring education costs, but it also speaks to every-day concerns we hear from employers and students on jobipedia.org. In short, how important is your GPA and how does this factor into an employer’s hiring decision?

It is a question that has come up on jobipeida.org quite a few times, and though contributors’ answers vary, the following are some key points most agree on.

  • First of all, employers are generally a lot better informed about the relative value of a prospective candidate’s GPA than the article might lead you to believe. In planning their annual recruitment strategies most large employers pick a certain number of "target schools" where they generally find the best candidates. Individual recruiters will be assigned to specific universities, and they work hard to develop strong campus ties with career service professionals, professors, student organizations, and others. As Deanna from IBM wrote, "We aim to understand degree/major programs including the courses and expected learning behind them. These relationships can also reveal different approaches used by colleges, such as varying grade point averages" (see answer).Though companies do accept a handful of applicants from other universities, for the most part they are relatively well informed about the schools they’re dealing with.
  • That said, as Todd from MetLife noted, recruiters do not necessarily "have the time to look in detail at each individual course you take in your college career," so an applicant’s GPA definitely does matter (see response). According to most companies, recruiters want to see a GPA of at least a 3.0 or above. Anything less raises red flags that can be difficult to overlook. According to Todd, "while a C in a very difficult course may be explainable, do your best to keep your grades as high as possible and then be evaluated on other variables such as summer internships, how well you interview, personality fit, major, school, ambition, professionalism etc." Most of our hiring experts say they use a GPA as a basic screening tool to narrow the field of interested applicants. As Jon from Textron writes, "If your GPA is high, by all means put it on your resume and ensure it’s noticed by the recruiter as a point of pride. If it is mediocre or poor, prepare to explain the reasons behind it so that the recruiter understands that your grades are not due to a lack of dedication."
  • Though the new exit-testing the WSJ article describes may be a useful data point in comparing learning at a macro-level across many different universities, employers definitely still use GPAs to distinguish between similar candidates. For example, as Jon of Avery Dennison points out, "Grade point averages can be influential when comparing students from the same university. If both candidates were equally successful throughout the interview process - one may be picked based on a higher grade point average" (see answer). Still, as Susan of Praxair writes, there are some exceptions to this norm. "If a student has a GPA of 2.0 vs. a student (from the same university or similar university) with a 3.8, I will always migrate towards the student who has demonstrated a greater degree of competence and skill throughout their coursework - the 3.8 student. However, in cases where the difference between two candidates GPAs is small - say between a 3.0 and 3.2 - I would base my hiring decision not on GPA, but more on the student who displayed the most potential in the interview, greatest ability to work well in teams, and whose communication skills were top-notch" (see answer).

Overall, though the new testing systems are a welcome development which may someday provide a valuable alternative benchmark - for both students and employers - a graduate’s GPA remains an important data point for most employers hiring entry-level applicants, along with a person’s past work experience, and where they went to school. It is certainly premature to disregard this metric just yet.

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