Do Employers Care About Your Grades?

by | March 10, 2009

Stefanie Brychcy never made the dean's list while earning her bachelor'sdegree in English at Rutgers University. Her grade point averages never nearedthe 4.0 range.

But these academic shortcomings didn't stop her from securing a job after shegraduated in May. Brychcy was hired as an assistant account executive atpublic-relations firm Stern + Associates in Cranford, N.J. Her fellow graduates,a majority of whom boasted a better academic record, are still scrambling tofind employment.

"I was a little worried about my grades when graduation gotcloser," Brychcy says. "But I know that I'm a hard worker. I justdon't happen to care for books and tests. To make a long story short, I don'tsee how my interpretation of the last chapter of 'Tess of the D'Urbervilles'matters to potential employers."

Instead of focusing on her academic record, Brychcy touted her workexperience when searching for her first post-college job. While in school, she'dinterned at the public-affairs office at McGuire Air Force Base in Wrightstown,N.J. And, even better, she worked as an intern at Stern + Associates, hercurrent employer, during her senior year. Officials at the company were sopleased with her work that they asked Brychcy even before she graduated if she'dconsider a full-time position.

Brychcy's case shows that applicants who didn't notch 4.0 G.PA.s can farejust as well as their more-academically-gifted peers. They just have to prove topotential employers that they have the experience and know-how to be an asset totheir organizations.

Brychcy isn't an exception to the norm. When considering recent graduates forjobs, employers say they weigh qualities other than academic performance. Manydon't care as much about grades as they do about workplace skills.

Linda Ford, president of the Ford Group, a consulting company based in LeeCenter, N.Y., says that when hiring she rarely pays attention to a student'sgrades. Instead, she looks for references from previously held internships orjobs.

"So you got an 'A' in philosophy? Great. Now you can argue with me allthe time. What I really care about is that you've already had work experience.Those students who come to me with a steady work record impress me far more thando those with high G.P.A.s," Ford says.

Leverage Your Experiences

As executive director of cooperative education and career services at PaceUniversity in New York City, Joan Mark works regularly with students seekingtheir first post-graduation jobs. Many come to her worried about mediocregrades, but Mark tells them not to despair. Instead, she advises them to focuson other, more positive traits. A C-student may have performed well during anumber of internships held while in college. A student may have worked twopart-time jobs to pay his way through school, accounting for middling grades.Students in these situations should emphasize their successes outside theclassroom, Mark says. They also should tell employers what these experiencestaught them about the working world.

"A lot of students come to me when they're working on their resumes andthey say to me, 'But I'm just an average student,' or 'I've hardly doneanything,' " Mark says. "There can be a number of reasons why studentswith poor grades didn't perform well academically. My job is to get thesestudents to pull out what it is that they can do well and then present thatinformation to employers."

Students who've held steady jobs while in college or landed successfulinternships don't need to disclose their G.P.A.s to potential employers, Marksays. A student's relevant work experience is more significant to employers thanacademic performance, she says.

Master the Interview

Students whose grades don't shine may have to work harder during theinterview process to secure employment. Eric Olson, senior editor of admissionsservices at the Princeton Review Inc., a test-preparation company basedin New York City, recommends that below-average students sharpen theirinterviewing skills. Students should cover basics such as eliminating "umms"and "uhs" from their speech. They also should memorize answers tointerview questions they're most likely to be asked.

What sets many interviewees apart are the questions they ask of potentialemployers, Olson says. College graduates who ask thoughtful questions as theinterview winds down make a strong impression, he says.

"Know the industry in which you're interviewing," Olson says."Find out who the major competitors are. Find out what's been written aboutthe company in the newspapers and ask questions regarding those stories. If youdo the research, on both the company and its industry, you'll be able to askintelligent questions."

Jeff Kaye, president and co-chief executive officer with Kaye/BassmanInternational Corp., a Dallas-based executive-search firm, recommends thatstudents with poor grades find ways to persuade employers that their othercollege experiences will make them valuable workers. He says a student whoserved as rush captain of his fraternity should tell interviewers if he helpedincrease his organization's pledge class from 30 members to 50, for example. Theprospective hire should then explain how this drive increased revenues, helpingthe fraternity renovate its on-campus house.

"You have to figure out a way to spin your experience," Kaye says."If you're a poor student, you have to sell what you do have."

Another way for below-average students to compete with theirmore-academically-gifted peers is to be aggressive during their job searches,Kaye says. In addition to mailing resumes to companies that interest them, theyshould pick up the telephone and call those companies, too.

"That shows character and resolve," he says. "You're showingemployers that that's a behavioral trait you'd continue to show once you get theposition at their company."

Target Smaller Firms

Graduates who didn't excel academically may need to expand their job quests.Instead of targeting the same big companies that some of their peers arepursuing, they may benefit more by searching among smaller, lesser-known firms.

"If you finished with straight C's, you may not end up at a majoraccounting firm. You may end up at a smaller company," says Kaye.

Lesser-known companies offer plenty of opportunities for entry-level workers,Kaye says. Often, employees can advance more quickly at a smaller firm. Then,armed with steady work experience, they can apply confidently to better knownorganizations.

Another way to get your foot in the door is to accept a position that's notyour first choice. For instance, a student who struggled while earning heraccounting degree may have to take a job as a bookkeeper at an accounting firm,then work her way up to a more prestigious position.

Kandace McGinnis, career counselor at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va.,tells her average or below-average students not to fret. They may need to startat a small company or settle for a lower starting salary. Another option iscompleting a post-college internship or nabbing two part-time jobs to make endsmeet. This step is only temporary, she says. After spending a few years in theworking world, graduates will leave their poor grades behind them. Thenemployers will judge them on their work ethics and skills, McGinnis says.

"There's a feeling among some students that accepting a position at anycompany that isn't the best represents failure on their part," McGinnissays. "But that's not true. Students who haven't done well in school haveto realize that it's not all over for them. It just might take them a littlelonger to get to the level they were hoping for. Remember, after one or twoyears' experience, employers won't be asking about your college G.P.A. any more.Once you build up a good reputation in your field, you should be fine."

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