How Do I Find a Job? Computer Engineering/Low GPA Edition
May 30, 2014 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a BS in Computer Engineering, albeit with a low GPA and no internships or experience. How do I get a job?

I studied computer engineering, specializing in embedded systems, at a top-ten program in the US. It took me six years to complete my degree. During that time, I did not complete any internships or co-ops; I worked summers as an exam-prep tutor. I did, however, work on a number of challenging and successful projects in classes. By the time I graduated, my GPA was under 2.5.

My transcript is full of As, Bs, and Fs. I had semesters when I received honors; I had semesters when I never got out of bed--not even to drop my classes. I genuinely enjoy the material and the work, but some of the social aspects of engineering school were difficult for me to handle. I feel like my technical ability and passion is reflected in the ambitious projects I undertook for some classes. My story is what seems like a typical one: bright kid goes to college, struggles with clinical depression, discovers substance abuse, and sort of slips through the cracks at a frankly enormous university.

It's been nearly a year since I've graduated. My experience in school basically devastated me, but I feel like I finally have my shit together well enough to earnestly look for an engineering job. I had applied to a few positions during that year--both informally, through friends, as well as formally--only to be unsuccessful. I am anxious about how weak my resume is, intimidated by the process, and just generally unsure of myself.

I can find plenty of openings for positions that match my skills. I am personable and confident during job fairs or interviews--except when it comes to talking about my grades. I'm in Houston, TX, and am open to relocating. My specific questions:

How do I make the most of what I have? Does anyone have suggestions or tips specific to this (STEM field, low GPA) situation? Should I put my GPA on my resume? Does anyone have a similar story? How did you stay motivated?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Why were you rejected from the jobs you applied for? Do you have a reason to believe this has to do with your GPA, or are you just inferring that?

I think the best thing you can do is apply at companies you are interested in and if they reject your application ask for some feedback on why they made that decision, how you could improve your application, etc. Then you can stop making this a guessing game. But frankly I would be surprised if they came back with, "Well, Jim, you're obviously talented and great and we'd love to hire you, but a 2.4 GPA? Come on." Employers don't care about your grades all that much, they're just trying to use it as a predictor of whether you would be a good fit for the position.

As far as explaining your grades, I think you just need a story. Lots of people have mars on their resume. You just have to be honest (to a degree) about why that happened in the past and how you have overcome it now. After you land your first job and stick it out for a year or two, nobody will care all that much that you failed a course ten years ago.
posted by deathpanels at 10:09 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

If I were you, I'd leave off GPA completely. This is going to be suspicious for "corporate" jobs at google-sized companies, but to be honest, you probably weren't a great candidate for those anyway.

Instead, I would build out one or two projects completely, and display them in your resume as a "portfolio". Then take this and target early-stage start ups in your job applications. You will be at an advantage with these groups because they are more interested in someone with wide but shallow skills. Also, these people tend to think of themselves as 'anti-establishment' and care less about stuff like GPA. Check out angellist for specific postings.

Most importantly, it sounds like on some level, you've already decided that the low GPA is going to hold you back. And sure, it might prevent you from a job as a McKinsey consultant, but Sillicon Valley prides itself with hiring the drop-outs and former-hippie-kids, so just explain that you had some medical issues which are solved now, and point to your most recent work as evidence that you're ready to be a responsible employee.

(As an aside, make sure you really are ready, because my experience is that this only works once. If you have a low GPA, and flame out of your first job, it will be much harder to find the second.)
posted by tinymegalo at 10:10 AM on May 30, 2014 [4 favorites]

Most definitely keep your GPA of the resume. If asked tell the truth, "I've had both As and Bs as well as Fs and as a result my GPA is low. But I know the material and I'm pationate about this field. I'm eager to prove myself if given the chance." if I heard something like this in an interview and the person seemed like he knew what he was doing I'd give them a chance. Meanwhile, work on your own projects, freelance or work on open source as much as you can.
posted by pyro979 at 10:13 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

You graduated, that means you made it through. There is no need to put your GPA on your resume... most people don't. After your first couple of years in the industry, nobody will even ask what your GPA was. Mine was sub-3.0 with a story similar to yours, and I've had a happy 15+ year career of high achievement.

Only the largest companies will even ask for your GPA (on a form somewhere), and frankly, I'd just leave that blank. Might you miss some jobs because of it? Yes, but you'll miss more putting a low one on there. If it comes up in an interview, I wouldn't mention a number, I'd just say something like well, there were a few rough patches, but I got back on track when I started working on <insert interesting project here>.
posted by festivus at 10:16 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

The good news is that it's never been easier to get a job without a degree at all. The market (at least in Silicon Valley) is hot due to a huge amount of early stage venture funding. There are multiple "Uber for laundry" startups with serious money behind them, for crying out loud. Github portfolios are the new résumé, so get some of those projects up. The other thing is to start your own startup. It costs almost nothing to register a domain and set up a server where you can do whatever you want and start soliciting customers. Motivation is the tricky part here. School is so structured compared to the wide-open space that is startup world. But even if you don't strike it rich, you'll gain some skills and maybe find that a customer wants to hire you as a developer.
posted by wnissen at 10:25 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I didn't feel I'd be a good fit for anyplace that was using GPA as a hiring metric so I didn't put it on my applications for software engineering roles. It never came up -- my impression is that they didn't care because the phone and on-site interviews adequately demonstrated my technical aptitude.

I wasn't ever asked about my grades, but I was expected to speak in some depth about concepts relevant to projects and classes that I opted to mention on my resume or during those interviews. (I didn't have a portfolio or populated GitHub account at the time, but I suspect it would work similarly if you choose to highlight those instead.)

To get to those one-on-one interviewing stages where your technical knowledge and people skills can shine, it might help to have contacts within companies who can submit your resume for you. If you can, consider reaching out to your peers from university or attending meetup groups that are relevant to your field. If you feel awkward about asking for that kind of favor, it might help to know that some firms have referral bonus programs for employees who refer applicants who end up being hired.

Best of luck!
posted by jdherg at 10:36 AM on May 30, 2014

Outside of my internship, I've never applied for a job with my GPA. Once you have the degree it doesn't matter.

Remember... "D is for Degree!" thats what we used to say at university.

(I am in tech.)
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:38 AM on May 30, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've been hiring for "Google Sized" Silicon Valley corporate software engineering jobs for a while. GPA is rare on resumes and kind of unnecessary. There are some folks (Google) who will take your college GPA into account but a ton of small startups who it won't even cross their mind to ask. Not having your GPA on your resume never even tickled my radar. I will say ironically that I did have one guy fresh out of school who put his 2.5 GPA on his resume. I hired him anyway 5 years ago he's now a director level engineering lead. YMMV

If you want to get a job. Work on stuff. Have side projects, contribute to OS projects etc. There's tons of ways to gain relevant coding experience without having a job. Those kinds of things will get you a job way more then a GPA will.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:43 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Are you looking for a software job or a job with more of an electrical engineering component?

I can't speak to the latter. For software, yes, by all means leave off your GPA, and get something up on Github—a school project, open-source contributions, whatever. You're looking for entry-level jobs so this doesn't have to be something super-impressive; basically you just want to make it clear that you are, in fact, able to write code in some kind of moderately competent way, and that you didn't just bullshit your way to graduation. There are plenty of jobs where nobody gives a fuck about your GPA.

You say you're willing to move. If you aren't having luck locally, and are able to fly out at your own expense for any interviews, it might be worth getting a phone number and PO box local to an area with more openings (e.g., Silicon Valley, the Research Triangle, whatever) and putting that on your resume. Don't lie, but there's no point in giving them a reason to throw out your resume before they even meet you.
posted by enn at 10:48 AM on May 30, 2014

Speaking as a senior embedded systems engineer, welcome to the fold.

It's a great field to work in, but the work can be highly specialized and sometimes an invisible cog in a larger company ("Firmware? What the hell is that? Just make the USB Keyboard work!") But embedded work isn't high-visibility startup-y VC web server work like working on "Uber for [X]", you need to sniff out the companies doing the down-and-dirty electrical engineering.

With a lack of real work experience it might be hard to get a foot in the door in a lot of places - especially when the job description lists the exact knowledge and experience of Joe, who just quit earlier this month and had 15 years under his belt.

Among the other great answers you'll get here, I'd make two suggestions to think about as you start to look for work:

1) Like others have said, start tinkering with hardware. Get a BeagleBone Black, not a Raspberry Pi. Read the technical documents. Learn to get Linux running on it, then learn to compile a new kernel for it. Change one line of code, compile it, show it runs. Get some confidence in playing with the board. Think up a small little project you can begin to play with and work on in your free time. Buy an Adafruit kit and make the board do something. The goal here is to build confidence in working with a modern system and talk about your little project in job interviews.

2) Look for embedded firms needing lab technicians. This is a good foot in the door in a lot of places. Embedded shops need people to build the boards and make them run. They also need test equipment and factory fixtures. Prove yourself in the lab,some some self-starting skills, show you can make a system FLY and you'll quickly be promoted up to an engineering-level position.

Unfortunately you're gonna need to build some momentum to get into the kind of job you really want. And that's gonna take some patience and time. You'll get there, don't worry. It's an exciting field to be in these days and, in my opinion, a lot more interesting than the 99% of the other programming out there. After all, what's a web programmer other than someone finding new and interesting ways to concatenate strings?
posted by JoeZydeco at 10:51 AM on May 30, 2014 [3 favorites]

Some schools will let you retroactively withdraw from classes, maybe even entire semesters, under the right circumstances. It could be worth calling the registrar at your school and asking whether you might qualify. You wouldn't need to remove many 0.0 credits from your transcript to see results.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 11:03 AM on May 30, 2014

I was you. It's not what you know, it's who you know. I got all of my industry jobs via college or professional contacts. What are your classmates doing? Get in touch with them and let them know you are looking. It's how I got my first job in rocket science. Also, an advantage you have is that fresh outs/recent grads are cheap, and companies love that.

Definitely leave your GPA off of your resume. Regarding your bad grades: Yes, you got bad grades, but the important thing is that you learned from those mistakes and are better for the experience.
posted by Rob Rockets at 11:13 AM on May 30, 2014

I write business software for a small SaaS company in MN and we've hired a couple people as developers in the past year with a year or two of college. We also had someone who went to a 12-week code school turn us down for another offer. Among the people who do have degrees, I'm sure some of them listed GPAs on resumes but I don't remember what any of them were.

So I'd say highlight your personal projects and make sure you've got a presence on GitHub (or whatever embedded systems people use) that ideally combines some of your personal projects with contributions to other projects people in your desired field would find interesting.

And if embedded systems is the kind of field where they treat engineers like, well, engineers, and expect them to have degrees and certifications and what not, application software might be an interesting option. A lot of startups in my area (MN) are doing Internet of Things-type projects and would be very interested in embedded systems people who have some familiarity with Web dev, agile methodologies, etc.*

Feel free to memail me with any questions or would like your resume critiqued.

* Web development is about concatenating strings in the same way that embedded systems is about modifying CPU registers, to address an earlier comment.
posted by substars at 11:16 AM on May 30, 2014

I'm a software engineer.

I can't speak for other companies, but at my current employer, in order to hire someone right out of college, there's a hard requirement of a 3.0 GPA. If we interview the candidate and he or she is wonderful, we send a hire recommendation to HR. If the candidate is unfortunate enough to have graduated with a 2.9999, we're not allowed to hire -- they get rejected by HR.

I don't understand the requirement, really, because a student with a 2.0 from World's Most Difficult University could very well be a better student than another with a 4.0 from Easy Breezy College. In my opinion, any college worth its salt would not award the degree if you can't hack it as a professional in the field of your major.

A college friend of mine used to tell this joke:

What do you call a med school student who graduates with the lowest possible GPA?

Point being that "graduates" is the most important word. Unfortunately, HR departments, particularly those at large companies with automation and inflexible, poorly-thought out metrics as hiring requirements, don't seem to share that view.

I suspect this was why I had so much trouble finding my first job out of college; my GPA (from an Ivy League school no less) was just a hair above 3.0, and this was in 2000, when reportedly tech companies were hiring STEM graduates as long as they could successfully fog a knife. Most companies probably have that same silly 3.0 requirement without an eye toward the rigor of the applicant's educational institution / major studies program.

Once I had had it with that job, finding another job was easy because by that point I'd had six years of professional experience, and a Master's degree with a higher GPA.

This is not good news for you, but probably not a show stopper. It just means you'll have to work a little harder to get your first job. In your position, I'd concentrate on smaller companies. Maybe I'd also go to a headhunter like KForce. Does the university from which you graduated have a career services office? Make use of that office's services.

Best of luck!
posted by tckma at 11:28 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

For sure, leave the GPA off of your resume. Now that you've graduated, no one gives a shit about your GPA. It's a non-issue. FWIW, mine was 2.0 and I dropped out, went back and it took me 7 years to complete my BA. D for Done was my motto for a LOT of classes.

While applying for jobs, can you get experience in Code School/Boot Camp, or interships, or something of that nature?

My company hires interns, no one cares where you went to school, or what your GPA was, as long as you can pass "the test." It's a pattern recognition thing. So see if there are any internships available.

Getting any job is an issue of applying and applying and applying until you find something. Lots of things on LinkedIn. Get a profile, with a good picture of yourself (nothing crazy, a nice headshot), that will help a LOT. I'm contacted by recruiters pretty frequently through Linked In.

If you want resume help, MeMail me and I'll see what I can do.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:32 AM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nthing tckma's point about Diffilcult U vs Easy Breezy College.

If your As and Bs were primarily in your field, you could try computing your "major" GPA or even your "last two years" GPA - those are common stand-ins, especially for STEM majors.

Also, the federal government is decidedly non-GPA specific (although you may be able to start at a higher step/grade if you have "superior academic performance") and still has some internship/pathways/etc positions up on USAJobs.

Network as much as you can, too.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:48 AM on May 30, 2014

I'd try for smaller companies. My ex had a rough time with his not great gpa and non-existant job/co-op/internship experience in computer science. He had no connections. It took him a very long time to find a job, and it was a smaller company. It was a start-up (but with benefits and a normal salary) and when it failed he was able to find a more stable job much more quickly.

So your first job may not be ideal. It may not be exactly what you envisioned. But forming those relationships will drastically improve your career projectory. It is one of those things you don't get in college, then you go to the real world and you're competing against people who aren't just good fits for the job, but they were referred by a current employee.
posted by Aranquis at 12:32 PM on May 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Canadian Permanent Residency and photo...   |   East Village Public Schools Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.