Do Grades Matter in Getting a Job? Not really, grade inflation!

Posted on July 21, 2014


“With the exception of something highly specialized like law or engineering—I would take an anthropology major or a liberal arts major any day of the week and teach them how to do the job and set them on the pace to a career—but with one caveat. I would want the really smart person with that anthropology or liberal arts degree. A person has to be smart enough to learn that new job while on the job and smart enough to expand their knowledge into different areas as they go through the years. Basically, I would only be comfortable with anthropology or liberal arts majors with a 3.8 GPA or higher (that is over all courses taken in college—not just in their major subject area). In my opinion, the people who lope through an anthropology or liberal arts major with a 2.5 GPA are asking for really big trouble—and a lot of them are going to get it too.”

Tracy, as always, made this very interesting comment a few days ago. I have seen lots of students ask questions about grades and if they help/hurt them in getting a job. If Tracy is hiring you than you probably want to have high grades (not really) but over all it is probably a mixed bag. Some employers will care, some won’t. It will also depend on the job you are applying for. We are pretty much talking about entry level positions when you are just out of University. Anything else will prioritize experience first and foremost. It even depends on what entry level job you are going for. If you want to be a professional archaeologist and go into CRM, most employers won’t care about your grades for a Technician position. Employers want to know if you can dig- fast and constantly. Last time I checked, your grades could not tell us how well you dug. The same goes for retail, fast-food, etc. it really does depend on the job.

How to Tell What Your Employers Want

As a general rule of thumb I would never look at grades when hiring, for any position. A bit of a different take than Tracy. I think our different take on this issue is a product of our environments, actually our ages. Take a look at this graph:

Copyright 2002, Stuart Rojstaczer,, no fee for not-for-profit use

That is from a study of 200 Universities in the US. When Tracy was at University, I believe late 70s/early 80s,  an ‘A’ actually meant something, even more in the 1940s (for my British readers A= 1st B = 2:1 C= 2:2, etc.). When I was in University about half of all grades were ‘A’s. The same trend is occurring in the UK:

Inflation is Killing Value

Grade inflation has all but eroded grades as anything but letters on a piece of paper in the US. In the UK a First still means something but give it a few more years and it will mean very little. But, back to Tracy and I. He went to school when a 3.8 probably put you in the 98-99th percentile. I went to school when the Average GPA of a Private University was 3.3 (3.0 for Public) and that score might put you in the 75th-80th percentile. Basically, you go from being 1 in 50 to about 1 in 4. We all tend to make judgements based on our own experiences. If your boss is old enough to have experienced grades meaning something than your grades might matter, if they even look at them. However, if your boss got their degree in the last decade or two it is unlikely they will be impressed that you got the same grades as 50% of your classmates and the same grade they got.

If you are concerned about getting a job you may want to focus your energies on something that will distinguish you from your peers, maybe experience, publications, or project work. Getting ‘A’s won’t do it, but don’t try to distinguish yourself by being one of the few people to still get ‘C’s.



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