Explain GPA Interview

How to Explain a Low GPA in an Interview


Explain GPA Interview

Dear J.T. & Dale: My son is about to graduate from Auburn University with a degree in mechanical engineering. He just had a second face-to-face interview with a big company, and at the very end, one of the engineers who interviewed him said: “Your GPA is a 2.5. We don’t usually hire guys with GPAs that low.”

He has never done well on tests. His cover letter stresses he’s a guy who’s not afraid to get his hands dirty and will use elbow grease and ingenuity to get the job done. How should he answer, “Why is your GPA so low?” – Lisa

DALE: Consider for a moment what the engineer was REALLY wondering – I suspect it was something like, “Are you going to be able to keep up, or are you going to be one of those employees who needs things explained a second and third time?”

J.T.: Which is why your son is doing the right thing in positioning himself as an effective worker. I think he should go on to say: “I really want this job. I wish I could change the GPA, but I can’t.

So, if you hire me and in the first 90 days you don’t feel I’m meeting your expectations, you can let me go, no questions asked.” This will show them that he’s totally confident in his abilities and that the GPA doesn’t bother him.

DALE: I like that. It would be even better if he could precede it with a quick rehabilitation of his GPA. He needs to look at his GPA year by year, and also by subject, and find ways to re-frame it. Also, a retired Duke University professor put together a site at www.gradeinflation.com. There your son can see that while the average GPA nationwide is 3.1, things are tougher at Auburn, where the most recent data has it at 2.75.

With a bit of analysis of his GPA, he perhaps could truthfully say something like, “The average GPA at my school is 2.75, and if you look at my junior and senior years, after I got serious about school, my GPA was well above average.” Start with that, then make the case J.T.’s suggesting, and I don’t think your son’s GPA will hold him back.

Feel free to send questions to J.T. and Dale via e-mail at advice@jtanddale.com or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

© 2012 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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J.T. & Dale

“JT & Dale Talk Jobs” is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country. J.T. O’Donnell and Dale Dauten are both professional development experts.


  1. im having very bad grades in my graduation, basically im not a studious type of student.but now the problem, is facing the interview with these bad grades. im in great distress for having a poor grades… pls can anyone help me out to face my interview with such a bad GPA.. pls help to crack interview with smart way…!!!

  2. I faced the same problem with a low GPA with a business degree even though I did get some internship experience. The bottom line was I just wasn’t too much of a book smart but I felt I got a lot out of my classes. Everytime I applied for work this past year the very first thing I would look at before I even spent time sending employers my resume, I would look at the bottom to see what level of experience they require. I tell many of you don’t badger those that didn’t perform, you need to face the facts that school, overachieving and academics is not for everyone, but I don’t encourage those on a high level to sell themselves short because of that. Not everyone was brought up the same way and in fact I’ve seen plenty of people who weren’t successful with a high gpa. My uncle graduated from USC with a high gpa in finance and he had a hard time getting a good job, it all comes down to networking. I even heard on the radio that recent graduate had a high gpa, with part time experience and connections and got no calls. No student should sell themselves short but it all comes down to the impression you make towards employers when interviewing for that position. Because of how tough this job market is when it comes to that thank goodness I got a referral from my friend to a Part Time Mortgage Servicing Specialist at Bank of America and if it wasn’t for him I would still be looking. I’m grateful I was able to put my foot in the door somewhere at a place with opportunities for advancement.

  3. It is tough to overcome a low GPA when graduating college unless you can overcome the objective with your reasons — perhaps you worked 40 hours a week, supported yourself, etc. Whether it is an easy or difficult major is not the issue, it is a track record issue. Companies see mediocre students as most likely being mediocre employees. I like J.T. and Dale’s comments and want to add that the student may be a great cultural fit for a company which is why he went back for a second round interview. If that is the case, he needs to drive that key point home. In addition, if he had great relationships with his professors, why not obtain letters of recommendation. Competition is fierce all around and the more you can add to ‘Career Asset Tool Box’ the better.

    • That is correct companies see mediocre students as most likely being mediocre employees, and in 90% of the cases that is the way it is. A great cultural fit will not solve a calculus equation, or a differential equation when you need to come up with the reason why a power-line is not functioning as expected, or why an engine does not propelling the thrust in a given amount of horse powers. The bottom line is you need to learn, and you better be good at what you do. An engineer is an engineer not a movie star.

  4. Some people challenge themselves with difficult degree’s such as Engineering or other BS degrees.

    Their son could have chosen an easier path, but WANTS the degree, and WANTS the challenge. There are nothing wrong with other degrees, but Engineering, Computer Science, Pre-Med, Chemistry, etc. are a set of many TOUGH courses. The fact that he finished sets him above many others.

    • Perry, you are confirming what I said. Engineering is not tough it is just a curricula that requires you to think critically. Everybody want to go thru easier path. This probe how mediocre we have become. It is not being good at what you do, if you just finish you should be considered a hero. That is totally wrong, finishing with a almost “D” score do not set him above anyone. What I see is another weak professional that a school awarded him a degree, to sum up the long list of undergraduate that can not find a job, who can not compete with professionals from other countries.

  5. I think this is shameful trying to cover what is obvious. A low GPA mean you are not scoring good in your tests; and therefore it indicate you have not learned or master your subjects efficiently. Let’s face it, we try to mask the reality. Too many bad students, now we wonder why China, Japan, Germany, Russia, and other countries graduate so many good professionals. There is no reason to score less than 3.85 GPA in a 4.0 GPA scale. What happen is better to be partying, play video games, and doing who know what at the campus in stead of being reading books and learning.

    • Joe,

      I’m afraid you’ve got it wrong here, sir. Aside from your spelling and grammar errors, which would absolutely NOT get you a 3.85 or above in ANY English curriculum I could respect, your attitude is one of exclusion and elitism.

      It’s truly unfortunate that so much emphasis is placed on grades in America, because they paint a very small picture of what kind of employee that student will become. Myself, for example, obtain a much more thorough and long lasting knowledge of the material in the curriculae but do it in a way that doesn’t get me great grades. I also pay the mortgage, 2 car payments, car insurance, and have to work part time (22-30 hrs/week) to do so. I also perform ALL the maintenance and repairs on my vehicles. I do all of this while studying undergraduate engineering at Embry-Riddle Univ.

      The college experience is not always designed to prepare you for a work environment but rather to challenge you to see what you can accomplish as an individual with an individual agenda. Especially in engineering, grades are based on exams for which you have a certain limited preparation possibility, and they’re almost always more about problem solving using the applied knowledge rather than exactly getting everything correct.

      Perry is correct to assume that simply the possession of an engineering degree sets one above the majority. What you’re talking about, Joe, is the next level, where we’re competing with other engineers. And believe me when I tell you that the complete skill set of a proficient engineer includes far more than the ability to arrange a second order differential equation into an algebraic one.

      Things like the ability to be open minded and the understanding that EVERYONE has something to bring to the table regardless of past accomplishments based on an arbitrary grade ratio are quite unique, for example. I hope that someday you can learn to see past GPA, Joe. There’s much more to see and you’ll find that it’s amazing.

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