Will your grades land the job?

December 17, 2009 at 6:16 pm 15 comments

Many college students have just finished exam week: a time of year where sleepless nights and cramming become  routine. For a lot of students, the pressure can be overwhelming. Some students even illegally use adderall for a study-aid, as a means to an end to getting the grade.

But are your grades really going to help you get the job you want?

This question first stemmed from a conversation with the VP of a Public Relations firm I visited this past semester. After reviewing my resume, she suggested I delete “Dean’s List” and other academic awards in order to free up more space for work experience. Needless to say, I was a bit taken aback.

On  11/17’s #PRStudChat, I asked the question,“Are grades important to employers?”

Valerie Simon, senior vice president at BurrellesLuce and co-host of #PRStudChat, gave some great insights on this topic:

@valeriesimon As you gain experience, grades become less important. But graduating with honors or distinctions is a great opportunity to distinguish yourself. And if you ever decide to go to grad school, grades definitely matter- if you can show that you are able to succeed academically while balancing an internship. Beyond grades and experience- work ethic, willingness to learn & personality play a tremendous role. And yes, the combination of experience (good recommendations), attitude and work ethic can help put you ahead of someone with good grades & nothing else.

And the statistics back up Valerie’s POV:

The 2007 Job Outlook Survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) ranked GPA as number 17 of the top 20 qualities employers find important in a candidate. And you know what quality was most important to employers? Communications skills.

Still not convincing enough for your A+ mind? Then ask a Public Relations firm, such as Lewis PR.

What matters to them more than a 4.0 GPA?

1.  Demonstration of an in-depth knowledge of the company and client base

2.  Mechanical perfection in the cover letter and resume presentation

3.  Collegiate sports / campus organizations

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a call to slackerdom nor is it a reflection of my academic habits (see “Dean’s List” above). We learn at a young age that all A’s get the golden star; our start to learning goal-setting skills. Good grades also show responsibility, time management, work ethic, etc.

My point is this: straight A’s are not “the end all and the be all” (Thanks, Shakespeare!) I think standardized testing in no way shows anything but the ability to memorize and regurgitate text books — aka academic bulimia — let alone intelligence. Learning- both inside and outside the classroom- is more important than that golden star on your transcript.

So relax if you didn’t get all A’s this semester. The initiative you’re taking outside of the classroom will make up for it.

*Addendum* – When I first posted this topic, I made an assumption that ALL PR students were brilliant (and I think for the most part, I’m correct). But after reading comments and tweets about this post, I realize I left out one important aspect: BAD GRADES ARE NOT ACCEPTABLE. In my opinion, a student with under a 3.0 gpa in their major should highly consider switiching majors: they are either 1) not cut out for the academic requirements of the major or 2) not passionate enough about what they are studying. My bottom line of this post is that experience, skills and initiative will trump “okay” grades. You don’t need a perfect A-record or a 4.0 gpa in order to get the job you want. You need to want it bad enough to do the extra stuff OUTSIDE of the classroom.


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15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. lmnovo  |  December 17, 2009 at 8:59 pm

    Yours is a question I’ve asked often myself, Mikinzie. I’ve got a 3.95 GPA and am proud of it (still angry about that one dang B+ though lol). Yet, I’ve been told it isn’t necessarily all that big of a deal; that, as long as a candidate has at least a 3.0ish or above, he/she can impress the employer with work experience. Luckily, I’ve done my best to accrue as much experience as possible, but sometimes I do wish my late nights of studying and dedication to course work would give me a bigger edge than it actually does! Fab post, as usual.

  • 2. Robin Luymes  |  December 18, 2009 at 12:35 am

    I’ve hired numerous interns and/or young employees over the past decade. Good grades are fine and help separate two equal candidates. HOWEVER, I’ve never needed to use grades as a tie-breaker. That’s because the interns/young professionals I’ve hired have demonstrated a go-getter attitude that has resulted in prior internships, experience and portfolio that doesn’t show on a report card.

    I went to college. I knew the guys in the next room over that had 4.0 GPAs but were completely socially inept. This is NOT an excuse to not do your best in your studies. BUT, college is more than grades. It’s a complete experience that includes what you learn in the classroom, how you apply that in practical work (or simulated work) experiences, and the relationships/friendships you develop.

    Go for the *complete* experience in college. The time you spend interning, being part of school paper or student organizations, and developing strong and lasting friendships will help you throughout your career and your life. For the record, I was a 3.2 GPA. Stupid liberal arts core requirements I had no interest (or passion) in!

    The biggest regret for not having higher GPA was scholarship funds. Good grades help pay for your education and reduce the debt you face (at least, in my case) when leaving college. That gives you freedom to make career decisions that will help you in the long run and not just pay off loans.

  • 3. Ryan  |  December 18, 2009 at 7:23 am

    Grades only count for what happens on your next step in life.

    HS matters to get into college
    College either to get a job/grad school

    And so on.

    Let’s be real. College nowadays it spoonfed to students. Too much hand holding and not enough real work. I see kids get 4.0’s that definitely do not have that sort of knowledege.

    Getting an A does not mean that you retained any knowledge from the class, or that you can demonstrate that knowledge at a later date. It means you satisfied the requirements set forth by the teacher and that is that.

    Experience is the game breaker. That is where you can learn real life training, and that trumps school any day.

  • 4. Jason  |  December 18, 2009 at 8:50 am

    In the past, I have always looked at grades as very important. I still think it shows that if you are serious about working hard at a career, your grades will reflect this (I’m not talking about getting an “A” in that senior year elective that you needed to fill the schedule).
    Are grade the ONLY thing to look at? Of course not. I want to see hands-on experience (internships, related blogging, etc.) There are many who get good grades in a writing class, but really CAN’T write.
    Experience is important, but there are a good number of employers that look at grades for the newly-graduated and use that in the hiring process.

  • 5. Matt Cheuvront  |  December 18, 2009 at 8:57 am

    Great discussion. I think grades are simply a means to an end. As Ryan pointed out, HS grades get you into college, College grades get you into your first job – but after that, it doesn’t really matter. In fact, I graduated in May of 2008 and I have already taken my GPA off of my resume (not because I’m ashamed – 3.5 – but because I wanted to make more room for PROFESSIONAL experience and get everything on one page).

    It’s funny how little college means once you have a year or two of REAL WORLD experience under your belt.

  • 6. kimberleymosher  |  December 18, 2009 at 9:04 am

    Things like grades are definitely cyclical – Matt, you allude to that in your comment. Grades advance you to the next step, and once we’re out in the working world, our professional accomplishments will get us to the next level, not the grades we had years ago in undergrad.

    Speaking from personal experience, I have always challenged myself to get places based on my personality and abilities – not my grades. I want to be “graded” on my ability to perform well, and I don’t think a academic test score will ever correlate to workplace performance.

    • 7. Jason  |  December 18, 2009 at 9:25 am

      Kimberley and Matt,
      It’s true that once you are out in the real world, grades tend not to be something employers look for first. If you are five years into a career, your GPA isn’t going to be stressed; work experience will.
      I hate to say this, but when I started in television my grades weren’t even LOOKED at by my employer.
      Solid grades will help you get that first job, but after that it’s experience.

  • 8. Kristina Allen  |  December 18, 2009 at 9:45 am

    I was hired for my first post-graduation position three days before I graduated. I indicated on my resume as I was nearing graduation and that I would be graduating with honors, but made no other reference to my grades (example: Public Communication, BA with Honors). It takes up little room on your resume, but gets across the notion that you worked hard and developed the skills necessary to succeed at the top of your class.

    When I interviewed for my current position, the hiring manager made no mention of my academic achievements, but was more interested in talking about the skills acquired during my internship (I only held one internship during my undergrad years because it was paid and they kept renewing it every semester until I graduated).

    My grades were important in getting me into grad school, but definitely not in obtaining my entry-level position.

  • 9. @collentine  |  December 18, 2009 at 10:18 am

    What the schools feed us with from early years is the importance of grades but in reality it’s only important in the academic world.

    As long as you’re still in school, applying for more courses, your master, academic career etc. the grade is almost all that matters but outside of this “bubble” they don’t care much as long as they’re ok.

    When applying to a job something done outside of school will weigh a lot more then the extra hours you put in to raise your grade.

    Do what you think will benefit you. As long as you really enjoy and learn a lot from what you are studying you might as well put down time for the higher grade. If the course you study is only “ok” then spend that time on something outside of school instead of “wasting your time for a higher grade”

  • 10. Stephanie  |  December 18, 2009 at 10:30 am

    I think this is a question many students ask themselves. I think grades are important in helping students land that first job after graduation. Employers hiring for entry-level positions know that students aren’t going to have a ton of experience, and so seeing a good G.P.A. and honors and so forth at least tells them that you’re passionate about it. But 2-3 years after college, its not really going to matter if you had a 4.0 G.P.A. because they’re going to want to see what you were able to do in your “real” positions.

  • 11. steve fox  |  December 18, 2009 at 10:51 am

    the addendum really sums it up. There is no reason a student can’t be racking up experiences and life while also getting a 3.4 GPA (or around there). If a student is too focused on the 4.0, that will show in other areas of a weak resume. If a student has a 2.9, then there are questions about that persons ability to meet requirements.

    Honestly, grading is so inflated in most institutions of higher education that a 3.0 GPA basically means a student showed up and tried a little. How can a potential employer even interpret the meaning of grades when that person knows this is going on?

  • 12. Sheema  |  December 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

    I agree with the other comments- grades are a means to an end, and after your first job don’t really matter any more. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t strive to do well in college- I’m proud to say I graduated summa cum laude, and like you said, that shows dedication, time management, etc. But I interviewed for my first job before I graduated, and they didn’t ask about my grades- they just wanted to know if I could write well! If I choose to go to grad school, I feel as like my grades will make a difference. I feel like most people who strive to get good grades to it for themselves (and maybe for their parents) and know that companies want to hire well-rounded individuals with internship/work experience. Great post!

  • 13. derekdevries  |  December 18, 2009 at 12:18 pm

    After working for three agencies and a nonprofit I can vouch for the reality that they’re not as important: I’ve never had an employer take my grades into account in the hiring process. (I’ve also never had an employer ask to see my portfolio either…)

  • 14. mikinzie  |  December 18, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Derek- In regards to your comment, what DID help you land those jobs?

    • 15. derekdevries  |  December 18, 2009 at 2:16 pm

      Great question ;-]

      What worked for me seemed to be a number of things::

      1) Networking: The majority of jobs are never posted – so knowing where to look (or who to contact) is imperative. Digital communication is a way of life for me, but even I grudgingly admit there’s no substitute for in-person interactions.

      2) Track Record: I had a long work history I could cite (when I was applying for internships, I had been working in my father’s insurance agency for nearly 10 years – so I had office/business experience).

      3) Unique qualifications: College is a great chance to try your hand at a lot of different things, and for me my interest in things like photography, video production, web design, etc. helped. My standard PR skill set was supplemented with other applicable skills. I actually think writing is my strongest skill, but it’s not what has defined my career thus far.

      4) Know Your Target: I absolutely agree with the first Lewis PR item; I know for a fact my knowledge of one agency landed me the job. I was told specifically that I landed the interview on the strength of the cover letter I’d written (which I used to demonstrate my knowledge of the agency and its clients).

      5) People Skills: Another critical aspect is your interpersonal communication skills; you have to be as impressive in person as you are on paper – so doing mock interviews (and taping them to watch for distracting/negative nonverbal behavior) is important.

      It’s difficult to generalize from one person’s experience; the standards/expectations are constantly shifting (so it’s important to be aware of the current conventions for job applicants – that’s always something I’ve done). For example – back when I was applying for jobs – cover letters were still acceptable (the conventional wisdom now is that they’re passe), and it was a novel/new thing to be tailoring your resume/cover letter specifically for the organization you were applying to. That appears to now have become the standard.


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