How To Overcome Poor Grades And Get A Job

Let's say you got poor grades in high school or college. You partied too much or were simply disinterested or unfocused. Let me share with you how to overcome poor grades and get a job. Poor grades doesn't doom you to a “C-student” or worse lifestyle.

But let's first be honest. 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. Therefore, why bother with you despite a good-looking resume

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.

How To Overcome Poor Grades And Get A Job

Here are five ways to overcome bad grades and get a job you want. Right now is the best time to work because there's a lot more flexibility and demand for labor during a pandemic.

1) Be honest during the interview.

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. They want you to recognize your faults and have matured. It's why the interviewer often asks the “What is your biggest weakness” question.

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. Work on building as many solid relationships as possible. Your network is your net worth!

5) Build your brand.

Your brand is what will make you stand out from a crowd. In this day and age, it's important to not only have professional LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter profiles, I highly recommend everybody have their own website. A simple will do.

Your personal website should be your dynamic resume where you customize your brand the way you want. Here's my step-by-step guide on how to start one just like this site. It costs so little and is easy to do.

Financial Samurai is my personal brand. From this website, I receive plenty of opportunities to consult, advertise, or work. It's amazing what a strong brand can do online.

“A” For Effort Is Nice, But Not Enough

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. You must overcome poor grades by doing what other people won't do.

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!


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Recommendation If You Want To Move On

Negotiate A Severance. If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend you negotiate a severance instead of quit. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training.

Since you got laid off, you're also eligible for up to 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.

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I first published the book in 2012 and have since expanded it to 200 pages from 100 pages in the latest edition thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.

Both my wife and I negotiated six-figure severance to be free. Perhaps you can negotiate a severance to help you do what you want as well. There's no better book out there about severance negotiations.

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34 thoughts on “How To Overcome Poor Grades And Get A Job”

  1. 2.47 Ivy League graduate

    Do people who actually have a poor undergraduate GPA and delete this article. Or at least rename it. You start off mentioning C grades but then procede to give advice for people with B GPA. Like, I could have given the same advice when I was 16!!

    A B is not poor, it’s average and as you said a foot through the door, it’s not a challenge to work your way up from average. What I would want to hear from you is how could someone land a job/succeed in more fields than just entrepreneurship with a C/C- GPA. How is someone supposed to work their way out of mediocrity when their GPA makes graduate school difficult and their income is not cushiony enough to comfortably take nondegree classes in community college?

    What advice can you give for an actually difficult situation of finishing undergraduate with a poor GPA and having the background of a poor family with no connections?

    1. Unfortunately, a B grade, or a 3.0 GPA, it’s not really good anymore. Perhaps it’s just grade inflation. But the world is extremely competitive now with an Mar 2015 Photo Unfortunately, a B grade, or a 3.0 GPA, is not really good anymore. Perhaps it’s just grade inflation. But the world is extremely competitive now with endless amount of A students.

      Can you first tell us about yourself? It looks like you are an Ivy League grad. That’s a top 1% education. What happened in school to result in a 2.47 GPA? I don’t think your life is over by any means. But you’ve got to share a little bit more about yourself and what do you want to do and what happened.

      Related: What if you go to Harvard and end up a nobody?

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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!

    1. 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.

      1. Inquisitive

        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…

  4. 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 ?

  5. 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.


  6. 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 :)

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

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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 ;) ).

  13. “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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  14. The Financial Blogger

    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.

    1. 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?

  15. Sunil from The Extra Money Blog

    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…

  16. 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.

  17. If you can’t get hired at Google or Apple, then get a job with a smaller company, kick ass for two years, then apply to Google or Apple. Experienced work professionals don’t put their GPA on their resume.

    1. 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 :)

  18. 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.

    1. Oh wow, Calc for in High School or College = Overachiever alert! :) I couldnt do Calculus so I took Home Economics instead. Loved that class since I love eating and throwing food! A+!

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