Today’s college accounting students should keep a close eye on their GPA — with good reason.

If it gets too low, they can have an uphill battle when trying to attract employers, said Jamie O’Brien, CPA, J.D., assistant chairman of the accountancy department and a teaching professor at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. “You’ve got to work harder to get what you want and get your foot in the door,” O’Brien said.

That sentiment is echoed by Rebecca Johnson Chase, CPA (inactive), associate director, market readiness and employment at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Students probably will disqualify themselves to some degree if their GPA is just too low,” she said.

So what do you do if your GPA has dropped below comfortable levels and you still desire a successful career in accounting? In the face of this challenge, you can take steps to stand out despite your academic struggles. Chase, O’Brien, and Washington, D.C.-based Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps, an accounting and finance staffing firm and a Robert Half Company, offer the following tips:

Stand out. Recruiters look at more than just GPAs when choosing their new interns or hires, and a candidate’s GPA is only a part of the overall picture. “The firms that recruit … are looking at students who have interesting backgrounds and enthusiasm, something extra that might distinguish them,” O’Brien said. So get involved at school, gain work experience, lead a college committee, or join a sports team to demonstrate that you are a well-rounded candidate. Students who can handle multiple tasks or projects simultaneously demonstrate drive and initiative, and can attract future employers. “That may be more important to a hiring manager than a GPA,” Steinitz added.

Be persistent. With a lower GPA, you will find that perseverance is key. Make a list of firms or companies where you’d like to work. Apply for positions, send résumés, follow-up with potential employers, send thank-you notes, and be diligent and grateful. “Someone who asserts themselves professionally will make a good impression, even if their grades are a bit lower,” O’Brien said. Once in the door, you can speak with recruiters about your GPA and reveal qualities that make you a great candidate for the job. “Talk about the improvements you’ve made and the positive changes that you can demonstrate,” added Chase.

Network and seek out help. Almost everyone knows an accountant, so ask your personal network for referrals and contact those CPAs for informational interviews. These CPAs can also offer motivation, advice, and possibly an internship. Also, visit your university’s career office, which can provide helpful resources.

Work harder. You may be able to raise your GPA by cracking the books a bit more. “There are two aspects to the grade — the aptitude and the work effort,” O’Brien noted. “The ‘I will’ is as important as the IQ. By and large, it’s a function of how much work and effort students decide to put into their studies.”

Stay positive. Don’t drown yourself in GPA woes. “If a person is down mentally, it shows in both their initiative to get a job, as well as when they are in an interview, so you have to stay upbeat,” Steinitz said. The accounting market is hot, and there are plenty of jobs for students with varying GPAs. So stay positive and forward-thinking, and “continue to do the best you can academically,” he added.

By Cheryl Meyer

Cheryl Meyer is a California-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.