Young Engineers

How to: Get an Engineering Job with a Low GPA

March 5, 2013

Interview season is well underway for soon-to-be-graduating engineers and students looking to land a fruitful engineering internship.  It follows that this is the time of year many look at their transcript, get a little panicky, and begin doubting their field of studies.

Low GPA Engineering Internship

Don’t be this guy.

One of the most popular questions we see is “How do I get a job with a 2.5 GPA in ________ engineering?” or “Is it possible to get an internship with a low GPA?”

With that in mind, we gathered a few expert opinions from engineers and recruiters on how best to overcome a low engineering GPA.

Low GPA? Get noticed for your Skills and Drive.

“In my experience, a stellar GPA is not always indicative of a stellar intern or employee. Neither is it an indicator of whether the student will be a ‘good fit’ with our organization.

Although most engineering firms focus on this one indicator, it is just one of a number of indicators that I use in recruiting.  Other aspects of a student’s knowledge, experience and character include extra-curricular activities, employment history, volunteer activities/ community involvement, recommendations from professors/ Dean, writing skills (demonstrated through resume and cover letter or email communications), verbal skills (via telephone or face-to-face meeting), and personality.  I have hired numerous students and graduate engineers who have had lower GPAs but had other skills, interests and drive that made them shine-along with their personalities (whether outgoing or not).

My recommendation would be to make sure that the non-GPA indicators (mentioned above) are strong and are demonstrated in the student’s resume.  Additionally, networking and face-to-face meetings via career fairs, personal contacts, etc., all make a big difference in getting a foot in the door.  Show your future employer that you are a well-rounded, enthusiastic student, and this will help to overcome a lower GPA.”

Lisa Fernandez Cookmeyer, PE is the CEO of Trigon Associates, a full-service engineering, consulting and management services firm based in New Orleans, LA.

Leave your GPA off. (And demonstrate your value with projects).

I’m a CTO who hires software engineers and I’ve been teaching at MIT for 12 years in a program that includes helping our students get summer internships.

If your GPA is low you can do two things together:

  1. Leave it off. Pointing out a negative doesn’t help. Hiring managers know a missing GPA means low GPA but leave it off anyway.
  2. Have something to make you stand out, most likely a project.

Fundamentally we’re asking “can this candidate do the job?”

For someone with no experience we use the GPA as a proxy.  If you can provide more direct evidence, show that. For example send not just your resume but a link to a project you’ve built and access to the code. If I can see something you’ve done and I like it, why do I care about your GPA?”

Mark Herschberg is the CTO at Madison Logic and an MIT graduate

Demonstrating Practical Knowledge > GPA

“I’ve hired top software engineering talent from schools such as MIT and Waterloo, as well as students with low GPAs from schools you’ve never heard of for a Silicon Valley startup founded out of MIT.

We’re a nerdy hacker-culture startup – students don’t wow us with a GPA. They wow us by being PASSIONATE – having lots of really interesting personal technical projects, a GitHub profile or code repository showing off their work, participation in open source projects, relative internships, competing coding competitions/ challenges/ hackathons, etc.  We recently put up a technical challenge on our website to give people an opportunity to wow us without a resume.  One of our recent hires didn’t even go to school for Computer Science – he was a psychology major! (and he’s amazing!)

Overall, it is more important to us that someone is a good coder than a good test taker.”

Megan Fox, Talent Manager at Silicon Valley Startup E La Carte

Computer or Software Engineer? Show off your Github Repositories.

“My experience allows me to make the following statement: Knowledge and experience will always trump superficial GPAs.

While GPA is a plus to an applicant, it is by no means the critical factor.  When I hire a programmer, I want to see his Github repositories and past programming projects and accomplishments rather than rely on his GPA.  Many students are great in school and getting great grades, but cannot translate their skills into practical outputs.

Students with low GPAs must work hard to get in touch with as many high-level managers and business owners directly and arrange for interviews to demonstrate their knowledge and experience.

And, make it easy for employers.  Set up a presentation or PDF overview of your accomplishments and portfolio.”

Ryan Breslow is the CEO of

8 Take-Away Tips to Get an Engineering Job with a Low GPA

1. Think Small.

Look past very large employers for your first job.

For many enterprise-class employers the first “impression” your resume garners will not be the Human Resources department. Because they receive hundreds of applications for any one slot, they employ an algorithm that sorts applications and excludes those below an assigned GPA cut-off point.

By focusing small you are increasing the chances that your resume and cover letter package will be reviewed as a whole (and by a human being).

2. Begin resume bullet points with action verbs.

Boston College has a great list here: Resume Action Words.

3. Focus on Format.

Make sure your resume is free of spelling, grammar and formatting errors. This cannot be overstated. In our earlier article “Engineering Resume and Interview Advice from the Experts,” a hiring manager made the point that “if you fail to pay attention to detail on your resume, how can they be sure you will pay attention to detail at your job?”

If you do this one thing well, you will stand out head and shoulders above much of your competition – regardless of their GPAs.

4. Highlight relative experience and projects.

Especially if you have volunteer, self-initiated or classroom external projects – emphasize these in your resume.

Where grades are a measure of your ability to take tests based on understanding of engineering theory and principles, experience is an indicator of your ability to actually perform engineering tasks. Set yourself apart by focusing on what you did outside the classroom. A few examples of things to include: academic conference presentations, internships, engineering competition projects, coding projects, design projects, etc.

The goal is to make hiring you an obvious solution to a future employer’s job vacancy problem.

5. Network like your job depended on it.

Attend on-campus information sessions and go out of your way to talk to recruiters. The advantage to walk-up interviews is that you create and control the first impression – not your resume (or your GPA).

Don’t ignore the internet, either. With clever use of social media platforms (such as LinkedIn) you can start a conversation and even build up a rappaport before applying for a job. And with LinkedIn, you have the advantage of tapping alumni for help finding a job or contacting them directly regarding open positions where they work.

6. Use your campus Career Services.

Take advantage of their resources – especially any resume help or interview preparation they provide.

7. Practice the interview.

Nothing will give you confidence going into the interview like practice. Rehearse how you will explain your low GPA during an interview and how you will demonstrate your engineering expertise. Research the employer. If you know they will ask you technical engineering questions, prepare for them. And, again, your campus career services may be an invaluable help in preparing for an interview. Once you’ve gotten to the interview stage, most employers will care about your expertise and how you think. Focus on conveying your abilities here.

8. Most importantly – Don’t give up.

Persistence pays off.  Once you’ve gotten into your first engineering job all future promotions or job offers will be based on the merit of your work performed since graduation. The only time your GPA will come up again is if you are applying to graduate school.

Featured Photo by: Nazly