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You probably heard mixed messages through the duration of your college career: Your GPA matters. Your GPA doesn't matter. One professor might say you need a killer GPA to land a killer internship to land a killer job after graduation – while another might just shrug indifferently, because "eh, employers don't even look at your college GPA." And now you're out the gate and in the real world with a less-than-ideal college transcript, wondering how much it's really going to matter to your job search.
The truth is that your college GPA only sometimes matters. A high GPA can indicate a strong work ethic, but so can an impressive portfolio, or a strong recommendation from one of your professors. If you're entering the workforce for the first time with a bad GPA under your belt, all is not lost. Here's what to do.
1. Tell Your Story
If you have your eyes on a job for which hiring managers implement criteria for college grades, it's time to remember that you're more than a number. Your GPA only explains one narrow part of your college experience – it doesn't paint the whole picture, as the U.S. News & World Report points out. Prepare to paint that picture in your interview, to place your grades in a fuller context and convince your interviewer that you're still worth their time.
Perhaps you struggled (or slacked off) in your first year or two of college, then turned it around in your junior year, at which point your grades climbed significantly. Consider calculating your GPA for just your junior and senior years. Use those numbers to show your hiring manager just how much you improved over the course of your college career, and how your overall GPA doesn't do justice to your true potential.
Otherwise, if life events impacted your performance in school, or you struggle with a learning disability that affected your performance in certain courses, consider telling that story in your interview. You can't go back and change your college GPA, but you can put it in context, which can go a long way with potential employers.
2. Work Hard, in Relevant Positions
Create a portfolio. Land an internship. Get as much relevant experience as you possibly can, as East Coast Executives President Kenneth L. Johnson suggested in an article for Monster. Consider interning or volunteering for a company in your desired field. Use these opportunities to network with people who can vouch for you later on and help you get your foot in the door, notwithstanding a bad college GPA. According to Johnson, unpaid work can function as a working interview, and put you on the radar of employers who might be seeking hard-working team members.
Use that work, along with any extracurricular projects you might have tackled in college (such as for a club, or an on-campus job), to create a list of relevant experience. If your grades don't accurately demonstrate your abilities, maybe this list can. Show prospective employers that you have the skills to contribute to their company, and that your college transcript doesn't do justice to those skills.
3. Leave It Off Your Resume
You might assume that a proper resume should include your GPA, but it's time to rework how you're approaching the job search. Your resume should highlight the parts of your background that might convince an employer to give you a shot – and if your GPA doesn't do that, simply omit it. Career expert Alison Green told the Tab that when you're seeking your first job after graduation, employers usually use GPA as a stand-in for real work experience, since it might be the only indicator of your capabilities as an employee. The moment you get some relevant work experience under your belt, your GPA loses meaning.
If you build up some relevant experience through volunteer work or internships, as suggested above, you might have enough evidence of your skills in place to leave out your GPA altogether. When you're crafting your resume, focus on work history and accomplishments, instead.
4. Stress the Positives
College Express calls this "the cover-with-lid technique." Maybe you don't have a meaningful story to help justify your college GPA, and you haven't nailed down any relevant work opportunities, either. If that's the case, come up with a compelling story to distract from the disappointing numbers and bring you to life in ways that your resume couldn't.
When preparing for your interview, come up with a list of your accomplishments and noteworthy work examples. Take note of the classes in which you scored well, of the volunteer organizations that loved you, of your passions and personal traits that would make you an outstanding employee, even if your transcript says otherwise. Use those points to create a story that demonstrates the areas in which you work hard, the subjects in which you excel and the skills that set you apart from other job candidates. Also consider detailing how you learned from your shortcomings, and how you'll apply those lessons to your career moving forward.
Brenna Swanston is a freelance writer, editor and journalist. She previously reported for the Sun newspaper in Santa Maria, California, and she holds a bachelor's in journalism from California Polytechnic State University.
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