How Can I Overcome a Lackluster GPA? Ask the Expert

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Investment banks pride themselves on hiring the best and the brightest - but your college GPA is decidedly average. What can you do? Robbie Miller Kaplan plots a strategy.

During my first two years of college, I struggled when it came to establishing an effective routine for handling classes and assignments. As a result, my grades weren't all that great, and I graduated with a GPA of about 2.5. Do you think I'll be able to work my way into a top-tier investment bank with that kind of academic record? What can I do to improve my chances? Should I consider going onto graduate school?

It's a sad truth that most of Wall Street's leading investment banks simply won't consider candidates who've turned in a lackluster college performance. But there may be some smaller firms or boutiques who might - might - be enticed to look beyond the numbers.

Certainly, there are more facets to job-specific qualifications than just your GPA but, since you recently graduated, let's address that issue first. College students usually achieve greater academic success in their major, and it's important for you to figure out your major GPA. If it's better than your overall GPA, you can include it on your resume along with your overall GPA. This might help balance your academic performance.

Overall GPA is not the only indicator of academic success. For example, what college did you attend? What was your major? Was your academic program rigorous? Did you take courses beyond the basic major requirements? Exactly what courses did you take? Did you have a minor, and how long did it take to graduate? Also, in what areas of college life did you participate? Did you hold leadership roles? In what ways did you contribute?

And let's not forget actual work experience and related accomplishments. Did you participate in internships or externships? Do you have work experiences that relate to your job search goals?

Understanding the Job's Requirements

The issue of academic performance must not distract us from the most crucial facet of the job search: Whether you've done your homework and have developed a clear understanding of the job requirements for positions that interest you. That really is the all-important place to start.

There are many ways to collect job-specific information. Go to job fairs, participate in professional associations and attend their meetings, conduct exploratory interviews, and review job announcements on the Web sites of employers and professional associations. Network and speak with both recruiters and individuals holding positions that interest you, so you can prepare a comprehensive list of requirements, both desired and preferred.

Once you have a detailed list of the qualifications you'll need, you'll be ready to conduct a personal assessment to evaluate how your credentials stack up. If you determine you're truly qualified, you can move forward with your search. If not, you can create an educational and experience plan to acquire the needed credentials to launch a competitive search. It's at this point you'll be able to make informed decisions on whether you should pursue graduate school or begin to obtain applicable work experience.

Robbie Miller Kaplan, a nationally-recognized expert on career communications, is the author of "How to Say It In Your Job Search" and "How to Say It When You Don't Know What to Say: The Right Words for Difficult Times," published by Prentice Hall Press.

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