When you are applying for an entry-level position, a typical job interview question is for the interviewer to ask you about your grades and how they represent you as a person. It can either be tricky or easy to answer, depending, of course, on the grades you received.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
At one level, interviewers are seeking to find out something obvious: your grades. After all, in the absence of a career or on-the-job experience, your grades—as well as your attitude toward schoolwork—are a stand-in for details on your work ethic and how you'll approach employment.
Interviewers may be more inclined to ask this question if they know you have poor grades and are looking to see if you can explain them.
This question can also help interviewers get to know you a bit better, and have a sense of your values and priorities.
How to Respond to Questions About Your Grades
The way you respond to questions about grades depends on what kinds of grades you received. Here's advice for how to handle this question, depending on your grades.
The Straight-A Student
If you're an A student, your answer will be easy, but you should also express your skills and varied experience outside of the classroom. For example, you don't want your potential employer to think you're book-smart only, lacking social fluency or the ability to interact and communicate well with others.
Further, you'll want to emphasize any work experience you've gained during your college career, including internships, volunteer work, and part-time jobs. This will show prospective employers that you know how to function in a workplace as well as in a classroom.
The Average and Below Average Student
If your grades were only average or below average, you have some reframing to do. The good news is that no college career is summed up entirely with grades. In fact, as far as employers are concerned, your grades won't matter at all once you have a few years of experience under your belt. Your goal right now is to show the hiring manager your skills and experience outside of your academic achievements.
Regardless of your grades, it's most important to frame your answer in a way that conveys that you are an intelligent, diligent, and well-rounded worker who would add value to the company.
Preparation is key to pulling this off. The last thing you want is to seem uncomfortable when you're telling your story.
Examples of the Best Answers if You Have Good Grades
These sample interview answers will help you choose the best approach. Edit them to fit your personal experiences and background.
Yes, I feel my grades are a very accurate indication of my success in college and graduate school. I took my academics very seriously and worked very hard for the grades I received. I am proud of the achievements I have made. But I'd also like to emphasize my extracurricular activities, where I demonstrated leadership and interpersonal skills, in addition to academic success.
Why It Works: In this response, the candidate acknowledges their good grades, but also discusses skills from outside the classroom.
Yes, I am a hard worker who takes my grades very seriously. My success didn't necessarily come easily to me. I spent a lot of time studying, while also balancing an internship and extracurriculars where I obtained real-life work skills. It wasn't an easy feat, but I managed to succeed in all three areas, and I think this is a good indication of my diligence and dedication to my responsibilities.
Why It Works: This response shows that the candidate is dedicated and a hard worker, and also name-checks activities that helped them develop on-the-job skills.
Yes, my grades are indicative of my academic achievement. But to be honest, I'm even more proud of some of the projects I worked on outside of my classes. I spent much of my free time junior and senior years volunteering at a local shelter, and the experience helped guide my career path. I believe that I found my purpose as a result of my volunteer work, and several staff members helped me find and land my internship senior year.
Why It Works: Again, this candidate showcases accomplishments from outside of the classroom, which employers value.
Examples of the Best Answers if You Have Average, Inconsistent, or Poor Grades
My grades are a good indication of my academic achievement, but in a way you may not expect. The improvement that you will see over four years of college does not show a lack of achievement in those early semesters. Rather, it shows the effects of finding an area of study that I was passionate about and good at.
Why It Works: This answer explains why the candidate had poor grades at one point, and implies that they're a strong worker when they are interested in the topic. Now, the candidate will need to convey they are passionate about this role.
Example Answer #2
As you can see, I've gotten average grades while in college, but I think my involvement with other aspects of my college life offers better evidence of my achievement. For example, I'm a Marketing and Events Chair for my sorority, coordinating all of our social and fundraising events and marketing outreach. I also hold a marketing internship at a local agency and am Vice President of the Undergraduate Marketing Club. My efforts have been focused on developing real-world skills rather than scoring all A grades on my exams.
Why It Works: This honest answer shows how the candidate was heavily involved in extracurriculars and took on impressive leadership roles.
Example Answer #3
My grades are not a good indication of what I achieved academically in college. Not because I got bad grades, but because the fieldwork and internships that I participated in were where I achieved the most academically. If you want to "see" my achievements, I will share my portfolio and tell you about my work experiences.
Why It Works: In this answer, the applicant acknowledges poor grades rather than attempting to cover them up. The applicant then points to an area where they succeeded and opens the door to questions about their achievements there.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
- Talk about real-world experience. Whether your grades were strong or poor, it can be helpful to keep the focus on your real-world experiences, such as leadership roles in clubs, volunteer work, and internships.
- Be honest. It might feel tempting to fib and claim to have good grades even if your GPA wasn't strong. But it's easy for these lies to be found out. Employers may even ask for a copy of a college or high school transcript. Being discovered being deceptive can result in job offers being rescinded, and just isn't worth it.
- Focus on growth. One approach to this question—for candidates with so-so or poor grades—is to focus on how grades. That is, hiring managers tend to respond well if you can show that you learned something and improved as a result.
What Not to Say
- Don't go negative. Even if you didn't flourish academically in college, there's room to spin your response into something positive. You can talk about extracurricular or real-life learning. Or, you can describe how you were able to improve your grades over the course of your time in school.
- Don't make excuses. If you did not get good grades in school, you'll want to explain why. But try to stay away from making excuses or blaming others for your grades (like a bad professor, for instance). Hiring managers won't respond well to someone who can't take responsibility.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- What college subject did you like the least? Best answer.
- What college subject did you like the most? Best answer.
- Why did you select your college or university? Best answer.
- Why did you choose your major? Best answer.
- Describe your most rewarding college experience. Best answer.
- Don't claim that you received good grades if you didn't.
- Even if you didn't receive strong grades, use this as an opportunity to share your strengths (such as your performance in an internship or how you developed academic success during college).
- Don't complain or blame others for poor grades.