Categories: Lime Connect Q & A: Your Questions. Our Answers.
A college student with arthritis takes some time off from school for a series of leg surgeries. Another student with dyslexia has a hard time on written tests and assignments. Their grades suffer as a result. These are some of the scenarios I hear from Lime Network members. And then they ask me the inevitable question, "how do I talk about my lower GPA in an interview?"
Here's the good news: while GPA and other marks may be an indicator of intellectual power or work ethic, they are not necessarily an indicator of success on the job. Unless you are interviewing for consulting or investment banking, where GPA may be a screening requirement, companies know GPA does not contribute much to their conclusions about candidates. In fact a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) finds that "when it comes to the importance of candidate skills and qualities, employers are looking for team players who can solve problems, organize their work, and communicate effectively". Essentially, they want people who can get things done!
So how might you address your lower GPA in an interview?
- Your major's GPA. Is it higher than your overall GPA? If so, keep the focus there both on your resume and during an interview.
- The experience is what differentiates. If your GPA is lower, don't just join clubs and organizations. Take on leadership roles. Take on challenging projects. Have great stories to tell about how you approached those projects and the impact and result of your work.
- Put a positive spin. If they do ask you about your lower GPA, you might address it head on, but also share how you are rectifying the situation. “The reason why I have a 2.5 overall GPA is because my freshman year, I didn’t know quite how to manage my time. However, it was a great learning opportunity and inspired me to learn those skills. Over the past 4 semesters, I’ve managed my time very well and earned a 3.5 in my major classes." OR "I decided to channel my time into all of the amazing opportunities available on campus to build leadership and other skills that I know are essential for success in a career. This put a bit of pressure on my GPA, but what I am learning will allow me to hit the ground running in any job" (Then share projects you've completed; leadership roles you've had; tough classes where you did excel). OR "I have a disability that makes it tougher for me to take tests in the allotted time. It doesn't impact other elements of my work. Freshman year I didn't realize I could ask for more time; and that this is a fairly common request. Once I did, I completed tests with great success." If you don't want to disclose your disability you might frame it as: "I had a few challenges my freshman year which made it difficult to get the GPA I was looking for. However I have worked things out and am excelling."
- Get ahead of misperceptions. You don't want them to think that your lower grades are due to an inability to organize, plan and prioritize. All of these are essential skills in the workplace. In describing things you've done during an interview, proactively highlight projects where you had to use these skills. "I created a project plan, delegated roles to different people on the team, kept the project on task….etc."
- Networking is even more important. If some companies are screening your resume for GPA, you might not be as likely to be selected. So find opportunities via networking. Frequent social media sites. Reach out to your alumni network. Do what you can to get face to face or phone to phone with someone so they can hear your story and not misinterpret your worth.
Go forth, get some great things done, and then enjoy bragging about them!
Suzanne Aptman is the Director of Professional Development at Lime Connect.