If you know that your GPA is not as high as your competitors’, you need to make a plan for how to convince your interviewers that you are still the best candidate for the job. Show up to interviews ready to handle tough questions about your grades if they arise. Don’t bring it up if not specifically asked, but the subject does come up, here’s how to respond.
There are a slew of reasons why one might have a low GPA—perhaps you had health or family issues for a semester or two, maybe you took too many credits at once or got involved in too many campus activities, or maybe you have a hard time with math and your required math classes brought your GPA down. Whatever the reason, be honest and take responsibility. Don’t make excuses or throw blame around; employers are looking for mature individuals that can admit their flaws.
While you should be honest when explaining your GPA, you don’t have to provide every gory detail. Instead, as the University of Pennsylvania Career Services advises, “Simply state what happened without a lot of details or over explanations and then focus on how you learned from the experience, particularly if it allows you to focus on more recent positive events.”
For example, if your grades were not straight A’s because you were the president of the Marketing Club and that took a lot of your time, turn the focus of the conversation to the leadership skills you developed in that position. Or if you had to work full-time while in school to pay for your education, discuss the good work ethic and time management abilities you acquired. Don’t linger on the negative, but rather, quickly transition into highlighting the positive aspects of your college performance that make you the best candidate for the job.
You could also mention what you learned from mistakes that you may have made so that you will not make those same mistakes again. With everything you say, focus on the positive and display yourself in the best possible light. Plan ahead for how you can demonstrate your strengths through your college experience. This could be shown through an internship you did, your effort as an athlete on a college team, your leadership experience in an organization, and a number of other things. Whatever it may be, think about what would be most relevant to the job you are applying for and sell your strengths through something besides GPA if it isn’t super impressive.
If most of the classes that brought your overall GPA down are generals, tell the interviewer your major GPA; if you are applying for a job in the field you went to school for, these are the classes that matter the most anyway. You can also explain that you perform best when you’re doing something you’re passionate about (and then explain your passion for this field and what the company does).
Another option is to calculate your GPA for a selected time span. If your grades were significantly lower your freshman year while you were getting the hang of the college life, calculate your GPA for your sophomore through senior years to show how you figured things out and made great improvement. If you had something come up one semester that made it really hard to focus on school (like family or health issues), calculate your GPA without that one semester to show your performance for the majority of your college work.
Now, don’t act ashamed or defeated if your low GPA comes up in an interview—you are there because you are worth considering seriously for the job. Believe in yourself and your capabilities. If you don’t, employers are less likely to believe in you. Tough questions are asked partially to see how you will react, so be confident! You need to show that you can withstand pressure, be professional, and sell yourself. Be proud of your other accomplishments and show that you have a lot more to offer than just grades.