Young Engineers

How to: Get an Engineering Job with a Low GPA

January 26, 2018

The typical student entering college or technical school generally sets out with wide-eyed and pure intentions.  Go to class, be studious, soak up all that knowledge and, eventually, graduate at the top if your class and score the job and career of your dreams.  

That’s all well and good, but the reality of the difficult task of attaining a higher education often means you’ll end up with a less than stellar GPA.  Whether it was that second (or third) job you needed to take to pay for tuition or one too many late nights sewing your wild oats, the degree you attained might now come attached with a few B’s or C’s that take the shine off of your accomplishments.  If this sounds like a familiar scenario, all is not lost.  We have some advice for just how to get an engineering job with a low GPA.

Skills, Certifications and Gumption Can Outweigh a Grade Point Average

Sure, a high GPA is often one of the first factors employers look for when evaluating a potential engineering candidate, but it’s far from the only one.  Those looking to impress hiring managers or their future companies can boost their resume in practical ways that can have as large, if not larger, an impact as the grade you received in applied science 101.  Advanced certifications, real-world experience, internships and externships and general life experiences that provide soft skills such as leadership ability are all plusses that can outweigh individual grades.

If you’re suffering from a low or below average GPA, showcase these other skills prominently in your resume and highlight your drive during the application process.  During your interview focus on how your experience has prepared you for the job at hand, better than any educational course ever could have.  If you have volunteer or community service experience, be sure to mention that as well.  Engineering jobs do take a certain amount of technical expertise, but that expertise often is not learned in a classroom setting.  Demonstrate your chops in other, often more effective ways, to even the playing field with that candidate who obviously perfected the art of being teacher’s pet.

Ditch the GPA and Include Accomplishments Instead

If you’re GPA is less than stellar, there’s no point in drawing unwanted attention to the fact.  List your education background and degree issuing schools, but opt to leave out the GPA stats.  As professionals progress in their careers, it’s quite common to find that GPA’s are withheld from resumes, bad or good.  This acknowledges the fact that at some point in your career, your experience will outweigh that university paper on the history of architecture.  This also means that potential employers won’t look askance at a missing GPA.

In place of those grades, consider including bullet points for specific projects and accomplishments.  If you successfully helped implement a new software solution in your last position, include the highlights and skill you utilized to make things happen.  If you built or installed sophisticated structures, be sure to list those as well.  This goes back to the real world experience and the fact that it frequently is a better mark of a successful candidate than a GPA score.

Offer to Take (or Proactively Take) Proficiency Tests

One of the best ways to show a prospective employer that you know your stuff, and overcome any appearance that you’re less than educated in your chosen field due to a low GPA, is to ace proficiency tests.  Sure, your teacher may have thought your doodling or daydreaming instead of studying wasn’t the optimal way to take in your coursework, but proficiency tests are the way to show them there’s more than one way to learn.

Proficiency tests are often available online or through third-party vendors, trade organizations or licensing agencies for your field.  The more reputable and independent the organization, the better your passing score will look on a resume.  Proficiency exams are often looked at more highly than school grades since they provide a glimpse into your practical ability to apply knowledge to facts.  Add certifications to your list of qualifications and lessen the impact of that less than stellar English essay on the deeper meaning of Romeo and Juliet.

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

1. Think Small

Sure, everyone wants to land the big, bad, sexy job with that top-rated engineering firm straight out of college.  The reality of the situation, however, is that these types of companies often have strict recruiting criteria that require cookie cutter backgrounds in potential applicants.

With a lower GPA, try focusing instead on smaller firms for the best chance at landing a job and showcasing your individual skill set.  If you have aspirations for ending up at an international top-tier employer, build your portfolio at a smaller company first and land the bigtime job based on your experience.  Who knows, maybe you’ll find the smaller company is a bigger long-term fit after all.

2. Use Active Verbs on Your Resume

Be sure to use active descriptors on your resume for the biggest impact.  This piece of advice works for GPA’s both large and small.  Operated, managed, performed and implemented are all examples of action words that help communicate not only your experience but also an assertive impression to a potential employer.  Need additional advice in this area?  Check out Boston College’s awesome list here: Resume Action Words.

3. Focus on Format

Few things can sabotage your chances at landing that amazing engineering job faster than a poorly formatted resume, chalk full of errors.  In your line of work, you realize the importance of even the smallest details.  In an area where half an inch can mean the difference between success and disaster, it only makes sense that your potential employer would apply the same exacting standards to their review of your resume.  

In order to head off disaster, ensure your resume, cover letter and other outside materials are free of grammatical errors and are formatted in a clear and easy to read and consistent manner. Once you’ve crafted or re-written your resume, be sure to ask a friend or trusted professional colleague to give it a once over before sending the document out into the world.  You only get one chance to make a first impression.  Treat your submission materials with the same precision you put into your engineering career and you’re sure to overcome any GPA inefficiencies.  

4. Highlight Relevant Experience and Projects

This next piece of advice works whether you’re an engineer, lawyer, or mail room attendant.  While employers are interested in ensuring you’ve received adequate education to perform the job at hand, relevant job experience will often rank more highly than even the shiniest of exam scores.

If your GPA is less than stellar, be sure to highlight your experience and successes in individual projects.  Bringing applicable experience to the top of your resume or submission will not only highlight why you’re a quality candidate, it can also serve to lessen or bury the impact of those not-quite-as-awesome college days.

5. Network like your job depended on it.

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a million times.  Network, network, network.  Getting your name and resume out there in front of the individuals who are in decision making positions is one of the most effective ways to add extra impact to your candidacy.  

Effective networking focuses more on quality over quantity.  With this in mind, focus your attention on using existing contact to help identify potential job openings that may not be widely distributed on typical networking sites.  If you do happen across a public opening, check your contact list for anyone you may know that could help get your resume a little added attention.  If your GPA is less than desirable, a personal connection can also help add context and color and boost your chances at that all-important interview.

6. Use Your Campus Career Services

If you’re still in college or a recent grad, you’ve probably seen that office labeled “career services.”  Perhaps you’ve even dozed through a presentation, or dozen, by various members of the job-hunting focused staff.  If you aren’t utilizing the services of campus career services, however, you’re missing out on an excellent resource for job guidance and openings.  

Career services are specifically tasked with helping graduates land the engineering job of their dreams.  From resumes to interviewing tips, these people get paid to help candidates like you find great jobs and life long careers.  If you have a lower GPA, try speaking with one of the reps about your concerns.  Chances are they’ve seen your scenario, and worse, before and can offer handy tips to help overcome a few low grades.

7. Practice Makes Perfect

Whether it’s a low GPA, a career gap or other less than desirable resume factoid, the worst thing you can do is go into an interview unprepared to address the inevitable question.  Review your resume and employment application for anything that may catch a prospective employer’s eye.  Prepare thoughtful and explanatory answers as part of your general interview prep.  Doing this will help calm any anxiety you may have over this information as well as downplay the importance in contrast to your cool, calm, collected and prepared presentation.

8. Most Importantly – Don’t Give Up

Just because you didn’t excel academically doesn’t mean you still can’t land a career-making position straight out of college.  Remember the old adage that says if you never try you can never succeed.  Be patient and persistent with your resume submission and follow up and have confidence in your individual skill set.  These, and the above helpful hints will help you overcome any initial downside of a few pesky English papers to your long-term goals of an engineering career.