Tricking People into Caring About Your Awards and College GPA

The thrill of winning an award is quickly followed by discovering that no one really cares.

Even though an award is someone telling you “good job,” if you talk about it at a dinner party, you’re stepping into the realm of shameless self-promotion. That new contact you’re meeting at a networking event doesn’t want to hear about your community service award and a hiring manager who sees a 4.0 listed on your resume isn’t going to be automatically compelled to call.

Like most college seniors, my new intern Rebecca will be spending the next several months shoring up the grades and achievements that she envisions will make her resume stand out from other entry-level job seekers.

This mentality of achievement is drilled into both students and workers. Meeting this month’s targets, next quarter’s goals, and our annual objectives are a constant drumbeat. As soon as one goal is met, the clock is already ticking on the next one. However, when it comes time to job search, communicating that you met your baseline expectations for nine consecutive quarters isn’t an achievement that a hiring manager will care about because all you’re saying is: “I did my job”.

The trick to transforming a personal or professional feat into something that will make employers take notice requires a switch in thinking: the award must become secondary to the story.

Yesterday morning my intern Rebecca was lamenting that her cumulative grade point average was two-tenths of a point below the cut-off for cum laude. With only two semesters until graduation, she had little time or room for error to achieve the GPA that will give her this honor.

Although she was quick to admit that her GPA has limited applicability in the real-world, she remained steadfast to this aim. I didn’t attempt to dissuade her from the goal, but instead advised her to start conceptualizing ways to turn her journey to achieve higher grades into a story that would resonate with future employers.

The harsh truth is: the GPA itself is irrelevant, as are all the other accolades pursued by students and workers alike. Whether it’s an academic prize, a sales plaque, or a civic honor, most awards are nondescript and many are suspect in their selection process, making the award inherently meaningless to others. However, you can overcome this emotional disconnection by developing a powerful story about the events that led up to the recognition.

In order to make herself memorable and provide an edge over other candidates, I advised Rebecca to transform her GPA into a story that demonstrates her true character. For instance, she could talk about always being a diligent student, but that a life-threatening health concern arose during the middle of her junior year and temporarily derailed her studies. After fighting for her health, she resumed her studies and set a goal to graduate on-time and with honors. Within the context of her personal struggles, the GPA becomes a gripping tale that reveals intimate and important elements of Rebecca’s character.

With this approach, it’s possible to turn losing an award into a point that reflects positively on you. In this case, I told Rebecca that even if she missed her goal of graduating cum laude, she could tweak the story within the context of her health scare and academic diligence. A version of the story about her missing her goal would share additional important details about her positive attitude and new-found understanding that good health is most important in life.

Knowing Rebecca, I am confident she will graduate cum laude, but that’s not what matters most. Ultimately, potential employers will be more impressed by what Rebecca overcame and learned in the process, than the numbers after the decimal point on her final transcript.

The same is true of any award. Turn your honors and awards into stories to bring the journey to life in a way that reveals characteristics that will be attractive to potential employers and new connections. You’ll make people care about your awards without bragging about yourself or boring your audience.

Want to start turning your achievements into stories? Download this free eBook, which will help you find stories from your life that will be interesting and compelling to others.