Are You Investing Your Effort In The Wrong Places?

I’m going to start this one out with a story, because stories are fun.

Commander Brutus looked up at his head of military research with an expression torn between incredulity and sadistic glee.

He always liked having a legitimate reason for throwing someone off of a cliff.

“You wanna run that by me again?”

The lieutenant stuttered for a moment, then regained his composure: “Archers, sire. We should train every man in our military to be an archer.”

“Explain yourself.”

“Well, sire, our scouts have confirmed that the city we’re planning on invading has many guards on top of the walls. So if we train every man in our army to be an archer, we’ll be able to pick them all off easily!”

The lieutenant beamed.

“And what of the gate? How will our men breach the city if we don’t provide them with siege weapons? What if a ground unit flanks our force while they’re shooting at the walls? How will the men defend themselves at close range with bows?” Brutus asked.

“I’m sure we can just figure that out when we get there, sire. But we should do archers now. Definitely archers.”

The lieutenant learned that he could not fly that day.

“Alright, what’s the point of this?”


Obviously I’m preparing you for a seige against the Romans, duh.

This story is a simple parable. While it’s ridiculous, it nicely illustrates a point that I want to make clear, which is this:

Your GPA is only one factor among the many that will help you land a job. Don’t invest all your effort on it. | Tweet This

I think most students these days know that the old “Go to college, get good grades, and you’ll land a great job” advice is antiquated and practically useless now. It’s now pretty common knowledge that you should be doing internships, gaining experience outside of class, and getting involved on campus.

However, there’s still a major problem with how many students invest their effort. Put simply, they still put way too much effort into their grades, and not enough effort into other important factors in the job-hunting process.

Case in point: I know people who will put 10+ hours into one homework project. When it comes time to apply for a job they really want, however, they’ll just spend 30 minutes updating their resume, emailing it out, and calling it a day.

See the problem here?

There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not you’re going to land a specific job. Here’s a sampling:

…and the list goes on. Notice that “Having a decent GPA” is only one factor in a list of many – and honestly, only a certain percentage of companies will actually care about it these days.

So why do students put so much effort into school projects, and basically exert the bare minimum effort when it comes to the other factors?

When I ask students to sit down and develop well thought-out goals for their life, I usually don’t hear things like:

“I want to get a perfect GPA.”

If grades are a goal, they’re usually a sub-goal that leads up to some ultimate goal that extends beyond college.

  • “I want to move to San Francisco and work for Facebook.”
  • “My goal is to own my own coffee shop.”
  • “Travelling the world and being able to work from anywhere is my ultimate goal.”

These are examples of real, life-defining goals. A good GPA doesn’t actually mean much to your life; it’s simply a measure of your ability that might unlock further opportunities.

A New Perspective

Pale Blue Dot

The Pale Blue Dot, Voyager 1’s photo of earth (in the blue circle) it took as it was leaving the Solar System

In the context of your “college life”, an individual assignment can seem like a pretty big deal. You only take 4-5 classes per semester, and a bad grade on a big project can mean that semester’s grades don’t turn out so well.

But what happens when you look at it from the perspective of a person with well-defined life goals? Let’s do some math:

  • One big assignment might be worth 10% of your grade in one class.
  • Assuming your degree requires 120 credits (mine did), and most classes are 3 credits, then that class’s grade is 1/40th of your GPA.
  • It’s almost impossible to estimate how much weight a recruiter will place on your GPA, but assuming you’re doing everything else right, we’ll ballpark it at 5% of decision.

See how small that one project looks now? Aside from the actual educational value of your project, that’s what you’re getting out of the 10 hours you spent working on it.

Should You Spend Less Time on Your Homework?

Well, I’m not saying that. If you need to take a good amount of time to produce quality work – and to learn effectively – then do it. (though I do think that most students could stand to upgrade their work methods)

Luckily, you probably have plenty of other free hours you can use to support your job hunting cause.

That Zelda game that took you 25 hours to beat? There’s 25 hours.

The new season of House of Cards you binge watched? That’s another 12 hours.

That spare hour you spend surfing Reddit every day? That’s 7 hours a week.

I’m not saying to forgo all media and never to have fun. But you need to look at your priorities and goals, and look at where you’re investing your effort. Do those match up?

Or are you doing a quick, crappy job on the things that really warrant the most effort?

If you really want a job at a specific place, why the hell would you spend only 30 minutes firing off your resume into the void, typing up a crappy cover letter, and then praying that they’ll call you back?

What, did…did’ja balls drop off?

That minuscule effect on your GPA has very little effect on your chances of getting that job, yet you diligently poured 10 hours into it.

Why wouldn’t you do the same when it came to actually pursuing the job?

Why wouldn’t you spend an hour tailoring your resume to show off the specific skills and experience that company would want to see?

Why wouldn’t you spend a few hours building a personal website to show off your work? Or maybe going all in and building a website that tells them why they should hire you?

Well, why wouldn’t you?

Featured image via Hans Splinter. Romans via Gemma Amor

Thomas Frank is the geek behind College Info Geek. After paying off $14K in student loans before graduating, landing jobs and internships, starting a successful business, and travelling the globe, he's now on a mission to help you build a remarkable college experience as well. Get the Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

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  1. Hey Thomas,

    If I had known how much work is required for applying for jobs I would have started freshmen year by networking and tweaking my resume and cover letters until I graduated.

    I think it is important to note that certain industries put a ton of weight on your GPA (accounting, engineering, etc.). While everyone in that school probably already knows that, the problem is someone might choose those majors later in their school life and if they come in with a low GPA their last semesters are going to be tough.

    The advice I would give is to start early by going to your career counselor and getting internships for the summer during your freshmen and sophomore year, but try to get a high GPA those early years when classes are relatively easier. Come your junior and senior year, you can shift most of your attention on your career since you have a high GPA.

    Also, if you are coming from a community college, they’ll accept your classes but will often give them no weight. Meaning, when I came in from community college my two years of straight A’s had no effect on my GPA. What a lovely surprise. Definitely something you want to investigate if you are transferring from a community college.

    For most career jobs, you are going to want a 3.0 or higher (which isn’t that hard…straight Bs are a 3.0), but for ones that focus on your GPA 3.5 is the minimum you should have. You can side step the GPA if you have a strong network (I did with accounting), but a low GPA might come back to haunt you during the interview process. You don’t want to come across as lazy because of a low GPA.


    By the way, the new photo of you looks badass.

    • Great comment, Mark – and hell yes to the advice about getting internships. The sooner, the better.

      I know what you mean about transfer credit; I came to college with 49 credits that I earned in high school, and they didn’t mean a thing for my GPA. However, I’m definitely glad I had them, as I didn’t have to busy myself with low-level English and Accounting classes during college.

      You’re right that some industries place more weight on the GPA, and students should be aware of that. Honestly, even with what I’ve said in this post, I’d still say to shoot for at least a 3.0 as a general rule. What I’m trying to squash is the notion that you have to be perfect and have a 4.0; as your GPA starts getting past 3.0, the marginal returns start dropping off quickly for most people.

      Students in situations where GPA truly doesn’t matter (such as my friend who is studying in Hong Kong and organizing huge coding events) already know how much their GPA matters, so I’m speaking to those who aren’t quite as sure.

  2. Hey Thomas,

    Great post. It should be told to all freshmen students.

    I’m graduating in 1-2 months. And I see almost everyone doing exactly the opposite of your advice here, where putting too much effort on the GPA is the biggest problem. They’re essentially graduating with a great GPA, but no network. They’re competing from a stack of resumes.

    But guess what? Personal connections always win over resumes.

    Again. Very good advice.

    • Congrats on your looming graduation! I’m glad to see that you’ve been busy building connections while still in college. It’s no fun to compete with just a resume and a data point.

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