Are Grades or Experience More Important When Looking For a Job?

By Joyce Huber

The whole purpose in going to college is to prepare yourself to enter the workforce, and to increase your chances of getting a better-paying job, right? Back in the 80s and 90s, the emphasis was on getting good grades in college to make yourself more competitive when it came time to search for a job. Well, things have changed. The rules have changed substantially from Baby Boomers to Millennials. Now you need experience.

The experience requirement

The whole experience requirement is a catch 22, or a paradox (a situation or statement that is self-contradictory). You are required to have experience in order to get the job, but you can't get a job without experience. This is the situation Millennials find themselves facing today. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Millennials are defined as those between the ages of 18-34, and this group of wage earners now number 75.4 million, bigger than the 74.9 million Baby Boomers (ages 51-69). So, the experience requirement is a big problem. Is there a solution?



It should be noted that no one should discount grades in favor of work experience. Grades remain important. They are still used to separate otherwise equal candidates for a job.

It should also be noted that grades and GPAs remain a requirement when it comes to applying for an internship. This is important to understand. Why? Because internships offer work experience to college students while they are still in college. It gives them just the experience they need to get their foot in the door when applying for their first job out of college.

But to get selected for an internship, grades are important. Achieving high academic success at college indicates you are disciplined, work hard, and can achieve exceptional results.


Because Millennials represent the largest group of wage earners, it means competition for jobs will be keener. Employers can be pickier when it comes to selecting job candidates because there is such a vast pool to choose from, so they look for candidates with experience. It makes sense from the employer's viewpoint because hiring someone with experience means less training is needed, and the employer will receive a quicker return on their investment in the way of productive results from an employee with experience.

Sources of experience

Even internships often require experience from candidates. Where is this experience coming from if this is the student's first internship? It can come from extracurricular activities at school and volunteer work within their communities. If these activities are directly in line with a student's chosen career interest, or those activities check the box on skills required for a job or internship within their field of interest, it counts as experience in the eyes of the employer.

What the professionals are saying about the value of experience:

Wall Street Journal: "New research suggests that a summer internship could be more important for your career prospects than what you do in the classroom."

Recognized career expert and experienced hiring manager, Heather R. Huhman, founder & president of Come Recommended, "According to a recent study, researchers sent 9,400 fictitious resumes to more than 2,000 online job postings. The study found students who had internship experience were 14 percent more likely to land an interview than those without experience."

She adds, "Internships give college students the opportunity to test-run their knowledge and pick up more skills and experience along the way. Internships also provide college students with the opportunity to gain valuable industry knowledge they wouldn’t have learned in the classroom.

USA Today College - "Only 25 percent of employers thought that GPA was the first or second most important factor when reviewing an applicant."

Jack Schacht and Stephanie Kennedy, who launched My College Planning Team (Wheaton, Illinois) - "while holding a job and studying can be challenging, it can also open doors when grads are ready to start a career." "Students who work during their college years have a competitive edge when they enter the job market right out of college."

The bottom line is that there is no cut-and-dry answer as to which is more important, grades or experience. Both are important, but there is a fine line on the timing. While good grades are more important for getting into top-notch colleges and landing good internships, experience is critical to getting hired for your first real job.

The good news is that experience can be gained as early as in high school through extracurricular activities, and through internships during college, and this can set you apart from your competition. In addition, employers want to hire coachable candidates who will easily transition into the workplace, so having relevant experience, like internships within your field of study, is key to getting ahead in today's competitive job market.

Getting both good grades and experience requires planning and hard work. Knowing how competitive the job market has become, students need to plan ahead in order to include activities that will equate to experience they can add to their resume, while at the same time balancing good grades with experience that will attract potential employers.

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