Amybeth Hale – Research Goddess

Who Will Hire Me? GPA vs. Experience
November 17, 2008, 8:26 am
Filed under: Education, Public Relations, Recruiting

This post is a collaborative effort between myself and Paul Matson, a soon-to-be Ohio University graduate from the Scripps School of Journalism. We took the data gathered from our survey and each wrote our thoughts on the topic…

In the field of communications and PR, the value of GPA vs. professional experience has been a hotly contested question for new grads and employers.

To undertake this dubious topic and shed some light on the issue, Waggener Edstrom recruiter Amybeth Hale and I recently administered a short survey to gather the opinions of practitioners and students alike.

From a working professional’s viewpoint, and especially one who works in the field of recruiting, I can tell you that through the years I’ve learned that no one really cares about your GPA, unless you’re studying law or medicine (and I’d agree that good grades are important for success in both those fields!) This is not to say, of course, that you should neglect your studies, but what it means is that employers are more interested in your activities and any experience within your field that you have gained while in school. Balancing experience with a decent GPA shows that you are well rounded and are able to handle multiple things at the same time. Even college professors agree with this; one professor said, “No one cares about GPA & no one asks. What people care about is what will translate directly into the job you’ll do.”

Gaining experience, once you’ve graduated, is a bit of a Catch-22 – employers want you to have it before they offer you a job….but how are you supposed to gain it if you’re not offered an opportunity (a job) in which to gain it? As a working professional, I highly recommend pursuing internships and work experience while you’re still in college and these opportunities are relatively easy to come by. Burying yourself in books, cramming to get a perfect GPA, and devoting every waking moment to maintaining a 4.0 unfortunately doesn’t translate well in most employment situations. DO your best to maintain a well-rounded slate of activities. – Amybeth Hale, Waggener Edstrom

In favor of experience, a common argument is that PR and communications, unlike engineering and math or medical-based fields, is much more subjective in nature. Therefore, a strong GPA in these fields is inherently more valuable (if you solve an engineering problem incorrectly, the bridge falls down.)

“It shifts over time, but recent grads need a good GPA. Further into your career, experience matters more. I prefer bridge engineers, architects, and my doctor to have both.”
- Jon, a working professional

In PR, innovation, originality and accuracy are king to being successful – there is no substitute for real-world experience. Conversely, a sturdy GPA (for the sake of argument, around a 3.0 and above) reflects strongly on commitment and time management throughout college.

“I could easily have a 4.0 GPA, if I spent all of my time focusing solely on my classes. Instead, I have a 3.5 GPA and a lot of relevant experience. I am active in PRSSA, PR Central (a student-run PR firm), the student government, and work for the university’s public relation department 15 hours a week. There is a quote in the student organization center on campus: ‘You can go to college and get a degree, or you can get involved and get an education'”
- Rachel, a student at Central Michigan University

Ideally, having both would be ideal. But what about the thousands of students with brilliant minds, plenty of professional experience, but a 3.0 or 2.9 GPA? Is the person with one internship and a 3.8 GPA more deserving of that entry-level position?

“Experience has proven to be more valuable to me. GPA is a reflection of the classroom and oftentimes, class work is more of a means to an end. Not to say that I haven’t had some great classroom experiences, but at best they acted as complements to what I’ve learned through my internships.”
- Aaron, student at Ohio University

Based on the responses we received, I was very surprised to find that most practitioners value experience far more than an outstanding GPA. From my own perspective, this indicates that employers are able to holistically analyze a new grad’s potential within their company. At the end of the day, an A+ in microeconomics and psychology is not the selling point to getting that coveted new job.

“Good grades are not as much an indication of ability in the student’s chosen career area as they are of the student’s ability to figure out what a teacher wants.”
- Nan, a working professional

As more responses were gathered, it became increasingly clear that many employers agree a strong GPA is good, but will not be the sole factor in earning you a first job. Many students, however, often become worried that their GPA may be the first concerning factor in being considered for a position.

“In my opinion, a good GPA and professional experience should go hand-in-hand. Obviously, if you are a good student who works and studies hard, you are more likely to be prepared to take on the challenges of the professional world. A great deal of professional experience can be an asset to your knowledge and understanding of concepts learned in the classroom.”
- April, a student at Ohio University

On the other hand…

“Relevant work experience… I believe is the best. You could be the worst student in the world, and yet be the most accurate candidate for a position. It’s up to what you can do.” – Guido, a working professional

Students have long struggled over being required to take “irrelevant” classes. I argue in favor of an employer looking at a student’s transcript, but paying close attention only to their core coursework and applicable courses. Work samples could also be provided that a student may have completed taking a particular class, which could count as a subtle form of experience (especially for younger students looking for internships with little experience).

“The ‘real world’ experience from internships and organizations helps in molding a good overall professional.”- Chelsea, a working professional

After reviewing this wide variety of opinions, I personally conclude that a strong GPA is valuable, but relevant experience and knowledge in a particular field will always take the cake.


1 Comment so far
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I only found out about this when I actually applied for a job. Recruiters look for the experience you have and GPA is just an added spice. I am an academic, grade-focused student and wanting to have good grades for a sure job in the future was my innocent view of the ‘working’ world. But now, I guess I realized, there’s more to people than plain grades. I have recently signed up to an online student resume network (NUresume build a free online resume and look for luck with internships.

Comment by Claire

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