C’s Make Degrees: Are You Filtering Good Candidates With GPAs Below 3.0?

For those of us who have been required, scratch that, privileged, enough to recruit college students, screening resumes can be…interesting.  You scan a resume, review the candidate’s education, and notice they conveniently left off their GPA.  Uh-oh.  They might as well list “didn’t study enough” under the activities and interests section.  What is often overlooked, however, is for those that may not have studied as hard, the extracurricular activities list is typically in abundance.  What do you make of that?  If they weren’t studying, they were filling their schedules with something else.  It’s the recruiter’s job to find out what it was and whether or not the skills acquired from those interests are of any value to an organization.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) 2010 Job Outlook Survey, 63% of respondents used a GPA of 3.0 as their cutoff when screening candidates, as they have in years past.  The problem with establishing a set-in-stone cutoff is that, unless you are looking at the GPA in relation to the type of degree and the institution that awarded it, you may be whittling down your talent pool unnecessarily.  A 2.5 GPA received studying at Harvard is most likely a better indicator of intelligence than a 4.0 at ABC Community College.  The point being, GPA can be relative and should be carefully analyzed before a resume is thrown in the trash.

On the flipside, year over year, the average GPA at universities and colleges across the nation is on the rise.  Gradeinflation.com shows that from 1991 to 2007, the average GPA for undergraduates rose from 2.93 to 3.11.  Students may be getting better educated and prepared in high school and have more resources available to them assisting their learning and development.  Or, as many reports claim, institutions may be “inflating” grade point averages year over year, perpetrating the oft used slogan ‘Exceptional Mediocrity”.

No matter what your candidate criteria may be, expectations are elevated amid these economic conditions as employers assume when unemployment is high, talent is plentiful.  Take into account with that, the sense of entitlement that Generation Y seems to possess and conditions could be stagnant for some time to come.  Many current college graduates are not willing to compromise what they believe to be a competitive salary or benefits package simply because jobs aren’t abundant.  It is perfectly acceptable to move back home with mom and dad until something deemed worthwhile comes along.  You may want the high GPA graduate for your company, but a decline in drive and work ethic in the current Generation of college students may require you to look at a lower GPA to get that dynamic employee.

While GPA may be crucial to positions involving math and science talent, what about the rest?  Are your sales personnel more likely to sell a product or service because they know how to regurgitate information from a textbook?  Probably not.  They will succeed because they have leadership and communications skills.  The ability to sell ice to an Eskimo doesn’t necessarily require college credentials.

The next time you get a resume, scroll to the bottom first, just for fun.  The future leaders of America (and perhaps your company) are members of affiliations and clubs, volunteers, and recipients of prominent internships.  It’s the abilities derived from these activities that allow them to excel and succeed, not their ability to put a pencil to paper.  Not to say that grades should not be taken into consideration, but I know I would be willing to follow a great communicator, regardless of their 2.5 GPA.

Traci K. is an HR Professional and freelance writer based in the Midwest, specializing in recruitment and immigration.  When she’s not improving unemployment, she keeps busy with her husband and four children.

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