How To Overcome Poor Grades And Get A Job

A lot of people still don’t believe there’s a high correlation between good grades and work life success.  Could it be that those who poo poo good grades as unnecessary are the ones who didn’t get good grades themselves?  Let’s imagine for the next couple seconds poor grades are poor indicators of success, even though for the first 22 years of your life, they are used in every aspect of progress.  Now that you’ve had your couple seconds, let’s snap back to reality.

Here you are, about to graduate college with a mediocre “B” average and you’re getting shot down during interviews left and right, assuming you are getting any.  From the employer’s perspective, they can interview from any number of schools, each with a plethora of “A” students, so why bother with you?  Your stubborn self still holds on to the belief that grades don’t matter, because you know you’re going to be a star some day.

FOUR WAYS NOT TO LET POOR GRADES KEEP YOU DOWN

1) Be honest. You’ve not only got to be honest with your potential employer, graduate school, or whatever else you are applying to, you have to be honest with yourself.  You know if you studied an extra 10 hours a week instead of getting blitzed every other night at the toga parties chasing tail, you probably would have done better in college.  Your employer wants to hear from you that you are not delusional, and recognize your faults and have matured.

2) Use weakness to your advantage. Many employers actually fear the superstar straight “A” student because of the belief they might have heightened egos and massive expectations.  If you can prove to your potential employer that you’ve taken steps to change your behavior for the better, you will go a long way.  Nobody can be perfect forever, and so if you can be imperfect during some other time (college) and learn from your mistakes, chances are you will be much more valuable and mature during work.

3) Focus on other activities. Getting a 3.0 GPA isn’t stellar, but it is good enough to get your foot in the door.  To make up for the “missing” 1.0, you need to discuss what you’ve learned in your extracurricular activities, which hopefully includes a part-time job, that made you a better person.  Organization, integrity, work ethic, compliance, and team work are the five key attributes an employer is looking for.  If you can demonstrate you’ve grasped these five things, you have more than made up for your lack of stellar grades.

4) Keep on hustling.  Like it or not, you are at a disadvantage vs. your peers with higher grades right out of college.  As a result, you have to make up for your lack of effort during school, by hustling more out of school.  Reach out more, send out more personalized search e-mails, attend more functions, designate more creative time, and get things done.

CONCLUSION – NO SUCH THING AS “A” FOR EFFORT

Yes, yes, I know you still don’t think good grades are important towards work life, and therefore monetary success.  But just humor for me for a bit and put yourselves in the interviewer’s shoes.  If you have 500 candidates to review for one position, and 400 of them have stellar grades, would you bother reading the other 100?  No, because we all have a limited amount of time, and the sample set of 400 is definitely good enough.  It’s the law of large numbers folks.  If you don’t pick up that $100 bill lying on the ground, someone else will.

Whatever you do, don’t tell sob stories about why you were so mediocre.  Excuses are for losers, and you will never be able to assuage your interviewer about why your pet hamster caused you to play video games for 8 hours a day while you should have been studying.  The only time sob stories work is when your interviewer lets you in on her own tragedy, which you’ve also experienced.  Then, you guys can have a pity fest and go straight to the top!

Recommendation:

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Regards,

Sam @ Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. Everyday Tips says

    I think grade are more important now than ever- not only to get into a job but also to get into college. It is so much more competitive in high school now than when I graduated 25 years ago.

    My undergrad GPA was not what it could have been, but a lot of that was because I worked constantly to pay for school. I also had an adjustment because I found that getting all As in high school with zero effort because you go to a low-quality school teaches you nothing when it comes to college. I had no study habits whatsoever.

    Oh, one more excuse on my part. I wasted all my ‘extra’ credits on calculus/science. I had started out as a math major and switched to finance at the end of my sophomore year. Calc 4 was not as easy as some other elective classes, and that hit my GPA too.

    I really wish all high schools did a better job of preparing kids for the rigors of college.

    • Jonny says

      Agree, I had problems getting into big company after college (had “B” average, plus economy was at it worth in 2008). Worked for smaller company for 2.5 years, and successfully got in to MSFT 6 month ago :)

  2. Kevin says

    I think we’re programmed to make excuses when we’re growing up. We make excuses so we don’t get in trouble, we see that it works, and then continue to use it throughout life. If we realize there is more to life than getting into trouble then we probably wouldn’t make as many excuses.

    I agree with you on #3 and think making a blog/website about your major/type of job you want can be a great way to show that you are passionate about your work and can be pretty impressive.

  3. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog says

    sure – pick a field you are very passionate about and focus on excellence. focus on being the best you can at it. like i have always said, stop worrying about the garbage and focus on excellence. fame, fortune, contentment and the kitchen sink will end up chasing you unlike the majority who end up chasing those attributes…

  4. The Financial Blogger says

    I think that if you have bad grades (I mean BAD), it is probably because you are not in the right field. I don’t believe you need all A’s to be successful (I was a B student during my Bachelor degree and got a much bigger job than most of my friend at school…. and a A student during my Master.. which didn’t bring much!).

    Sometimes, if you are looking for A’s, you will have to work hours and hours and it is useless in my opinion. The important part is to understand the class, not to get the A the way the teacher wants you to work ;-).

    I don’t think we should focus of famous dropouts… they are the exceptions.

    • Financial Samurai says

      I just want to stop hearing excuses. I want to get the message out to kids that if you have a choice between studying hard and getting good grades, and having a great time and getting mediocre grades, go with the former!

      Why risk a chance at a lot of opportunities in life?

  5. cm says

    “Why do you think there is a continued tremendous backlash against the benefits of having good grades and/or having a good resume (activities, school, etc)??”

    Is there? I wasn’t aware of a “continued tremendous backlash”–what are you basing that on?

    I teach at a “non-competitive” school and even there grades are felt to matter. One of my clunkier students said his goal was to “party hard and still make Dean’s List” so I guess that is some indication that even to that guy, good grades must bring benefits. I’ve also had A- students freak out on me because they didn’t get an A, etc.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Yeah, for some reason there is online. You can see it from lifestyle type blogs who say grades don’t matter and how it’s just about living your life to the fullest etc. Sounds like an excuse to me.

      • cm says

        It sounds also like telling people what they want to hear, sort of like diets that promise that you can “eat all you want, whatever you want” and still–somehow–lose weight. Those bloggers are clever: it’s an effective–though completely lame–way to attract an audience. Just look at “The Secret”. Ugh.

  6. Little House says

    I’ve been out of the loop for quite a while, so my question is are companies really pulling college transcripts for over 500 applicants? In the past, when I’ve created a resume I didn’t list my GPA. Is that the norm now? And how would you know they aren’t fibbing unless you pulled those transcripts?

    Thankfully I’ve always been somewhere around a 3.75 GPA – but I haven’t had to brag about it in the past. (Well, okay. Maybe a 3.75 no longer constitutes a bragging right ;) ).

  7. Steve Jobs says

    Good grades always takes part in achieving our dreams, it is a plus factor when you are applying for a job. However, no matter how your grade goes, strategies and behavior too toward work are also one of the bases in hiring good employees too.

  8. Darwin's Money says

    We came to the conclusion in Biotech manufacturing that many of the 4.0 engineers from top tier schools just weren’t a good fit for our line of work. Either they weren’t socially able to fit in with real-world problem-solving go-getters, they felt too entitled/elitist for what we were doing, or they were just very strange. We started actually favoring more outgoing, dynamic 3.0-3.5 types. Personally, I had a 3.3 out of school and they didn’t think twice about hiring me. I think a high GPA gets you in the door in most places, but it’s often deceiving for certain types of roles. Sometimes there’s a negative correlation with “perfect” students and how they perform/fit in.

  9. Charlie says

    I don’t know why so many people think once they get to college they don’t have to do any work. I definitely look at GPA’s on resumes. I also applaud people that got A’s in college because I know it’s not easy to do. It’s a competitive world out there and I want to hire candidates who are able to multi task, turn work in on time, and retain information – all skills needed to get good grades.

  10. Penny Picker says

    You can’t put a grade on desire, persistence, ambition, followup and asking for the opportunity! While decent grades may help you land your first job, your work ethic and hustle will determine how well you do in life.

  11. Jeremy Johnson says

    A nice thing here is that even if you didn’t get good grades in high school and college, that there is still time to course correct. It wasn’t until my last semester of college that I got straight A’s. And it wasn’t until my early 30′s that I finally pulled my head out of “you know where” and realized that the world is competitive and if you want to be in demand, then you’ve got to become valuable and do what it takes to get there.

  12. Lindy Mint says

    I’d like to add too that just having good grades is not a golden ticket. I graduated with a 3.86 and figured finding a job would be a breeze. I’d never put any value on networking, or being involved in organizations (book worm me), or honing my interviewing skills. All of those things play a vital part as well.

  13. Jan says

    Good grades are important to corporate. I do not know one extremely successful small business owner who was good in school.

  14. Credit Cards in Canada says

    It all depends on which career path you choose. If you want to be an entrepreneur or manage your business, grades have no importance. You need more vocational education than anything else. If you goals are high end corporate positions and education driven positions like science, engineering, etc then definitely grades and schools matter. The competition here is stiff and the applicants are filtered based on grades.

    Every field has it’s own requirements and based on that one should prepare themselves.

    Good grades and a good education never hurt though :)

  15. Forest says

    I got great grades at school but I left early before doing A levels (16-18) or going to College. I left with (weird English exams) 12 GCSE’s grades A* – C (4 A*’s, 4 A’s 3 B’s and 1 C). Leaving early at 16 can cause an issue but I managed to use work experience to power up to a good position within a few years. Back then college just wasn’t for me but I knew I could succeed on any path.

    I don’t think school is for every kid. Some of the most intelligent kids just don’t respond to that kind of learning either and they come out with absolutely useless grades. However I did grow up in UK where jobs seemed to rely less on pieces of paper (I hear this is changing) and more on what you could prove you could do. It does seem that in USA without that paper you are pretty much going to be jobless!

    College is great in many ways of course and it’s helped many of my friends but for others it just got in the way of their ambition or some were forced by parents who insisted their children needed a degree. The bigger picture is that success can come from passion alone especially if pursuing entrepreneurial routes.

    If you want to live a bog standard corporate life then yes you need to lead a bog standard school life. If you plan to step out of the box then I completely believe you can formulate your own path however you creatively want.

  16. Mike Hunt says

    I had a 2.9 GPA coming out of undergrad. What killed me was first semester was mandatory pass / fail on all courses and although I did manage to pass all courses (with a 2.0) that semester, it put me into some very bad habits of sleeping through all my classes and blowing off homework assignments. Basically I relied on doing better on the tests to make it up. Horrible strategy, eh? Well I woke up after the first two years of having nearly a 2.2 GPA. The last two years I kicked it into gear and averaged somewhere around a 3.5 avg. I also did undergrad research during the summer and got a paper published.

    The latter plus doing very well on the GRE’s got me into a grad program (UVA) with a full scholarship, I also got one at UMass Amherst. During my Master’s degree I averaged a 3.4, not great but not terrible.

    I don’t remember if I listed my GPA for my first job and never had to list it again for any other jobs- the more key thing was the school names I went to (Johns Hopkins and UVA).

    That being said, having a poor GPA can come back to haunt you. I applied to B-schools 2 years after I started working and didn’t get in to Stanford or Harvard, my two choices at the time… I’m sure a low undergrad GPA was a factor. The pain of ‘explaining’ the poor grades isn’t worth it but then again I can say I really did enjoy partying those first 2 years.

    -Mike

  17. Elton John says

    A low grade doesn’t mean you’re weak and high grades don’t mean you’re superior too. The most important thing here is we are able to go school and graduated no matter what your grade is. Not all who graduated from college with honors because of their high grades got the coolest and great job in the whole world, luck sometimes twist.

  18. nomas says

    It’s not difficult to get A’s, difficult for many is not the issue it’s the subject content they find boring or not applicable to the real world. What are you going to tell everyone when all the students get A’s and are still waiting in line for that job ? Grades don’t mean anything, experience and skills do and luck. If 100 people with A’s show up to the interview and all of them are equal in education then what ? What sort of wacked out scale are you going to use to determine one’s worth to be hired ?

  19. Geoff says

    I think the only time grades matter is when you’re coming right out of school. Once you get a year or two under your belt at any company, no one pays attention to grades, so just leave it off your resume. 95% of the companies want to know about your applicable work experience, skills, and degree, but don’t care about your grades. If you’re grades suck, get the best job you can, bust your ass, and then find a better job in a year or two.

    There are of course exceptions to hiring practices at some top level jobs, but I’ve never asked about grades in any interview I’ve conducted in the past 15 years!

    • Financial Samurai says

      Geoff, sounds like you’re making excuses man! If one has good grades in college, they always leave it on their resumes forever!

      I don’t ask either, but I see. Just one of many datapoints.

      • Inquisitive says

        What is your problem..? It seems that your EXCUSE, is accusing everyone else of making an EXCUSE. Awww, you couldn’t do Calculus? What’s your excuse for that? Your hypocrisy is very prevalent…

  20. James Wilks says

    Financial Samurai,

    You seem to have a deep insecurity about your future.
    I understand where you are coming from. I got excellent grades at college
    but I have countless friends that are more successful that me despite their poor grades.
    My boss is a year younger than me and got a low 2.2 degree (UK). He is wealthy and started from
    nothing. He just had self belief. College for him was merely an experience.

    I also disagree about the significance of grades later in life. My friend and I from college both applied for five different engineering positions. All but one of them went to people who had the most relevant experience in the area. My friend and I both have first class degrees. I met the successful applicants for a beer after. Their grades were mediocre but they had the experience.

    This blog must be cathartic for you to write to help you address your own insecurities.

    • Financial Samurai says

      Congrats on getting good grades. Might as well say it again in your comment just to make sure.

      Again, grades don’t matter. Especially if you live in a developed country as life is easy.

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