Little White Lies—Rounding Up Your GPA


It’s very tempting for job seekers—especially if they’ve sent out many resumes without receiving positive responses from employers—to want to give their GPAs a little bump up. After all, we all know that some employers have grade cut-offs. Why not make sure you make the cut? Isn’t it more appealing to say that you had a 3.5 GPA when really it was a 3.47? That’s just rounding up, right?

Sure, little white lies like this might be more appealing to prospective employers. They might even work sometimes—increasing your chances of getting an interview and even a job offer. That’s of course why they’re so tempting.

But they aren’t harmless sales-pitches. They’re lies. And those lies are time bombs waiting to go off. Perhaps those lies will be discovered in the hiring process during a background check. Perhaps they’ll be discovered six months from now. Or six years from now. Or never. But they will still be there. The news is full of stories where lies were discovered—years later—and cost the person his job, or cost a candidate an election, or simply caused embarrassment. Remember that upgrading your GPA is a lie easily uncovered—it only takes one look at your transcript. And, yes, employers do often require (and do often carefully review) transcripts. I know an attorney whose job offer was pulled after it was discovered that on his resume he’d rounded up his GPA by 0.01.

So what can you do about your GPA? If you’re rounding up the GPA (which I don’t recommend), then at least indicate that you’ve done so. If you had a rising trend in your GPA (which so many people do, due to the difficult transition to law school), you can use your last year or your last semester. You can also use your better semester’s GPA, or simply the most relevant courses. The critical thing to do here is to clearly indicate what you’ve done. For example, your resume might read, “3.69 GPA (final year),” or “3.83 GPA (in major).”

The best strategy is to focus your resume on your strengths. You can also offset a lower overall, cumulative GPA by showing outstanding grades in relevant courses and other academic honors. After all, if you’re applying to be a real estate closing attorney, then the employer is more likely to be concerned about your grades in real estate, transactions, tax, and similar courses, than she is likely to be concerned about your grades in criminal procedure.

Lastly, you can show that you’re a hands-on learner who did well in clinical programs, internships, moot court, and the like. Or that you were a very active and engaged student with lots of leadership, work, and other responsibilities. After all, if you were working full-time and president of two organizations, then it’s a lot easier for an employer to understand why you don’t have a 4.0. And I should also mention that while GPA is a big deal with some employers, that’s not true with every employer. Target employers who value your strengths, not employers who are fixated on your weaknesses.

Remember: everything on your resume must be able to pass a background check. That’s the big difference between “presenting things in the best light” and lying. So be very careful and very certain when implementing any of these strategies. The key here is to be truthful, but to focus the target audience—employers and recruiters—on your strengths rather than eliminate you from consideration because of one single number.