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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 3, 2016
Question

Should I include my GPA on my resume?

answer
Julie Q. Brush

The resume is one of the most important marketing tools a legal professional possesses when seeking to make a job change. It’s the first impression about You that an employer sees – with assumptions and judgments made about a candidate’s background and viability within a matter of nanoseconds. So crafting an effective resume is a must in order to put your best foot forward.

So what about grades? Should a candidate list his/her Grade Point Average (GPA) on the resume? Does listing a good GPA give a candidate a competitive advantage?

Generally speaking, numerical GPAs should not be included on resumes….unless…they pass the “Wow” test: i.e. the GPA is so good the resume reader literally says or thinks “Wow” when seeing it. That’s usually any number between 3.8 – 4.0+. These types of high academic marks can differentiate candidates – but only to a small extent. Even a perfect score won’t provide a significant, if any advantage if the candidate’s work experience isn’t relevant or high quality enough and/or the employment history is subpar.

GPAs below the top range listed above are impressive as well, but the farther south you move from a “perfect” 4.0, the more you run the risk that the employer will view it that way. And why take that risk if you don’t need to? What is important to include are academic distinctions (regardless of the accompanying numerical GPA) such as cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, Order of the Coif, with honors etc. These academic “advertisements” are impressive and tell the reader that you earned excellent grades, which creates a positive impression for an employer.

So if you received good grades in law school and undergrad, but neither GPA is high enough to merit inclusion on your resume for a competitive advantage, including them won’t give you the benefit seek. In fact, if included, these GPAs might slightly diminish your resume’s overall strength and effectiveness depending on the rest of your background. So my recommendation is to leave them off.

Would you break any “rules” if you decided to include your GPA in this context? No. Breach any professional protocols? No. Create monumental risks with your candidacy? No. But crafting an effective resume is about nuance and the details of the little things – that in the aggregate form the narrative about you and your background. So each choice counts. And if your grades were not at their peak, omitting them from your resume would be a wise one.

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Comments

Sometimes employers ask for transcripts, even at the Partner level. While there is nothing you can do to avoid sending a mediocre transcript, I find one thing helpful - but only if it is true. If you worked 20 or more hours a week during law school, include a note to that effect with your transcript. Many employers understand you would probably have done better if you had that time to study. Fewer than 20 hours may be viewed as whining.

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