I'm a recent university graduate and unfortunately came out with a low GPA (1.91). But not because I was a slacker or not terribly bright...quite the opposite!

However, since I was 14 (maybe earlier, but at that age things came to a head) I've been dealing with crippling depressing and anxiety issues.

Now I'm 27. Over the years I've seen several therapists, been on multiple rounds of medication and I'm doing MUCH better. It's something I'll always deal with, but I currently have a better understanding of my issues and better tools to deal with it.

My conundrum is that my poor academic performance is a direct result of my mental illness, but I am hesitant to mention this to prospective employers.

I am proud that despite my difficulties I was even able to complete my degree (especially considering that at more that one occasion I wanted to jump of my faculty's five story building). In my last couple of semesters I even managed my anxiety enough to score several Bs and As. :-)

But how do I let interviewers/résumé readers see past my low GPA and recognise that I am a smart, talented and (finally!) well adjusted person, without rehashing my painful difficulties?

TSchow's picture
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 Manager tools has a podcast on answer GPA questions.

Yes mental illness is problematic to mention during the interview. Perhaps when asked about your low GPA answer stating something to the effect of (Updated 7/4/2012 Please see SSTOG problem solution format, its more effective. )

For what its worth some of my friends and their challenges (similar to yours) the single most important thing they did is to learn to talk. For me I took a few classes from the Dale Carnegie Institute and these changed my life. The other thing I have recently done is joined toastmasters. If you learn the skills both of these organizations are teaching your relationships should not suffer.

Finally I prefer to choose my own future, and I do not let my own faults slow me down. Like wise I suggest you dont let your own faults slow/stop you. Manager-tools first job fundamentals overview is a very good start to focus on other things that need attention.

GlennR's picture

I agree with Schowti above about both Dale Carnegie and Toastmasters. I plan on encouraging my sons to attend both after they graduate.

Know that there are many professions where GPA is not a major factor. For example, as an interviewer of people seeking positions in my nonprofit, I cannot ever remember assigning any great significance to a GPA. Rather, I looked for a degree as an example of setting a goal and sticking to it. If it related to the position, fine. If not, the applicant had the chance to sell me on why he or she thought the position was the right one for both of us. I looked at team work, problem solving, the ability to accomplish goals, communications skills, and the ability to manage stress.

I would be very careful how you bring up the topic of mental illness, if at all. There are so many myths about it that a recruiter could jump to the wrong conclusion.

Welcome to your first career. That is, searching for a full-time position. If you're not spending 40+ hours a week looking for a position, I have no sympathy for you. (Exception: if you have to take a part time job to provide income.) Where I've seen graduates fail, grow discouraged and go back to grad school or settle for a menial job, is because they didn't put forth the effort.  Prepare for rejection and discouragement.  That is normal.

The fact that you're here on one of the best darn web sites ever is definitely a mile or too in the right direction. If you find yourself with free time, fill it up by researching possible professions, networking, and volunteering (which in itself is a great way to network and develop leadership and teaming skills).

Don't overlook the nonprofit sector. We have a crying need for managers with the same degrees as the business sector. (We just don't have the stock options.) If you're interested in sales, but you don't seem to motivated by commissions, you might find a career in fund raising where you're motivated by mission.

Good luck! Now go get 'em!


sstogd's picture

Congrats on finishing your degree!  You've been successful in a very difficult circumstance, and the skills you've learned along the way will serve you well in your career.

My college age son was recently diagnosed with a serious mental illness, and he has had to bail out on two semesters of college in two years due to some acute episodes.  He's got a good doctor now and is taking medicine that works very well, so hopefully the rest of his college career will be uneventful, but still -- what to say to future employers?

Honesty is always the best policy, but I agree with Schowti and Glennr that you should avoid mentioning "mental illness" head-on.   Here's what I've recommended to my son: "I struggled with a medical condition and ended up missing a couple of semesters of college.  I'm getting excellent care now, and the condition is under control -- it won't affect my ability to do this job."  No need to disclose more than that.

I'd avoid explanations that might be construed as having partied too much or not worked hard enough. Conquering a medical condition -- whether mental or otherwise -- says something positive about your character.  Goal-setting and perseverance are characteristics that employers value but not all college grads can claim.

Good luck!