Experience or grade point avg. — what’s more important?

Michigan Tech just hosted its Fall Career Fair, hosting over 371 recruiting organizations. With over 1,200 recruiters looking to fill talent needs, the conversation arises each year about the importance of the student’s grade point average (GPA) when they search for a co-op, internship or their first full-time job after graduation. It is a tremendous source of anxiety for students. But how important is GPA versus experience applying the knowledge they have acquired?

Currently, many large companies will only consider students for job opportunities if they have a minimum GPA of 3.0 (a K-12 average of “B”). This has been a long-standing tradition of human resource professions, an easy way to “filter” out the top students in a non-biased way. It was thought that those receiving high academic marks worked for them, putting more effort in to studying than those earning lower GPAs.

Some students struggle academically because they are not interested in or don’t understand how they would use this knowledge in life. They do not see how it is relevant. Some students experience life distractions, such as losing a family member or other personal struggle that cause them to take their focus off their studies, often impacting only one semester. Some students struggle with a learning disability and have not found or utilized an accommodation to help them deal with the personal challenge. All can have a short-term or longer lasting drag on a GPA.

I know many recruiters who are more interested in how you responded to these challenges than what your overall GPA is. They know in your career you will face adverse situations, disappointments, and even complete failures. How you respond to these events illustrates how you have developed resiliency, tenacity and grit. These traits help you learn from failure, making the best of a bad situation, often creating success from failure.

We recently polled recruiters, asking them to tell us which was more important, work experience where they applied their knowledge or GPA. Of those polled, 51 percent stated work experience most valuable, 13 percent favored high GPA, while the remaining 36 percent felt a combination of both was optimal. Even more striking was that if recruiters found a talented student but did not have any openings for them, 88 percent stated they would make a position in their organization for them.

We in Michigan Tech Career Services have found possessing a GPA more than 3.0 provides students more choices in their career options. You gain access to the large companies due to their standards. Your true long term value stems from work experience where you have applied your knowledge. These experiences could include working as a counselor at a summer youth program, lead a student team of workers at the SDC, or having an internship at GS Engineering solving engineering challenges as part of project team. There are many ways to accomplish this in school projects as well.

Success in academics is important. Creating a support network to help you achieve is even more important. But how successfully you respond to challenges and failures, including using the knowledge you have gained to achieve this goal, is where recruiters will find your greatest value.

Steve Patchin is the director of Career Services for Michigan Technological University.

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