College dropout

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009 - career management, career planning, CV Tips, CV Writing, Education, Employment, Qualifications, university

College dropout

Steve, a professional engineer, asks: What is the best way to explain dropping out of university in your CV? Even though I’m well on my way to gaining a degree through my job, and have vocational qualifications, I still feel that my unfinished degree looks bad on my CV.

I dropped out because I made a poor choice of course, and didn’t feel it was worth my time and money. I can explain the situation at an interview when asked (sometimes even in a positive light!), but I just can’t find a way to write my CV without it looking like an obvious gap or failure. Employers don’t want CVs with excuses on them…

I’ve tried leaving it out completely, but that results in an obvious gap in my career history. I’ve tried adding details of the modules I studied and passed, but that makes it obvious that I dropped out. And I can’t pass it off as a proper qualification because I didn’t study the right combinations to get a certificate or diploma. Although I did other things during that time, such as freelance work for university events and occasional volunteer work, I feel these aren’t sufficient enough to list under jobs and wouldn’t be happy asking for references from these. Any ideas? No matter how much I manage to add to my CV, this same issue keeps popping up every time I try to rewrite it.

In answer:

I don’t think there is an issue here, its just that you are making one of it and hence reflecting that in your CV. Think about it:

  • As a young person, you made a choice
  • You realised it was the wrong choice
  • You decided the best path was to follow something else
  • You are now successful and about to gain a degree

Unless you are applying for jobs in the future which is in the area of competency in which your degree study was, what’s the problem?

Employers want to know what you can do and apply, the most relevant bits of which are in the last three years of your career history. They don’t want or need to know what you proved conclusively – on a personal and academic front – that you could not do some time ago.

If you are really worried about this, then think about it this way: the academic/educational section of your CV is on page2. If they read that far on the first read, I will be amazed. Employers skim and reject job applicants on their proven ability to deliver the five core skills they seek to prove functional fit, and after that everything else is a bonus.

In summary: if you don’t put it in the past and concentrate on the what you bring to that job, how can you expect an employer to? Focus on what they want, not a personal learning experience

Good Luck!


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