Dealing With a Low GPA

If you performed very well academically in college, naturally that’s something you should bring attention to on your resume by including your GPA or academic honors. But if your GPA wasn’t stellar, say less than 3.0 (on a 4-point scale), then it’s not so advisable to include it.  

But rest assured that if your academic record is not exceptional, that doesn’t mean that your hiring opportunities are doomed or that you will be looked down upon. If you think about it, there’s a very good chance that the person making the hiring decision didn’t excel in the classroom either. Nonetheless, there are some interviewers who might probe those individuals with a lower-than-average GPA, especially if it is very low. There are several strategies and considerations if you find yourself in this situation.

First, don’t be afraid to tackle this situation head-on and with confidence. In other words, we are suggesting that you have to own it.  Naturally, the interviewer is seeking an explanation and you need to be prepared to provide it.  Here you have to swallow your pride and lay it out there for them.

For some of you, it could be that there were mitigating circumstances or valid reasons for a low GPA such as:

  • You are the product of a low-quality high school and were not adequately prepared for the rigors of college
  • You worked full-time throughout college
  • You played in a high-profile competitive NCAA sport 
  • You were involved in multiple campus activities, clubs, programs
  • You suffered a traumatic event, injury, illness, or some other extreme hardship

But what if none of those apply and it’s simply a matter that you didn’t prioritize academics very well? In that case, you have no choice but to own up to it and admit it.  Yet don’t be foolish and confess that you partied too hard and skipped lots of classes. Whether your reasoning is incredibly valid or is a bit lame, the reasoning alone won’t suffice. You have to provide more information to make them believe that your low performance in the classroom won’t be an issue in the future. In that regard, you may be able to offer the following:

  • Your GPA in your major was well above average
  • Your GPA started low due to the college adjustment period but improved every term thereafter
  • You enrolled in a graduate program and maintained a high GPA
  • You excelled on projects, theses, or other practical applications of the academics
  • You conquered a steep learning curve in your military profession
  • You excelled in every job you have had

A last note. We’ve seen job candidates get turned off by companies that ask probing questions about GPAs:  “To heck with them if they think I’m not smart enough to work for their dumb company!”  Not so fast.  When an interviewer asks the question, they may be just as uncomfortable asking it as you are in answering it. So they actually look forward to hearing a good news story as part of the answer. They are human after all. It could be that it’s just one of those standard questions that they are required to ask but has little bearing on the job decision. But when the job candidate suddenly gets defensive about it, all of a sudden it becomes an issue because of the way in which the person responded. When a candidate gets very defensive on a question, that will send up some red flags to the interviewer.

Remember this. There are many famous business people who didn’t even finish college: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Richard Branson, etc. And many others who did graduate, but didn’t do well. But you are not them. You can’t win an interview based on what other people did. And if your GPA wasn’t good enough to a company, then to heck with them. Get over it and move on.