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I have an interview next week for a software development placement. I am studying Computer Science at university, despite dropping it at A Level when I got an E.

The reason for this was that I didn't enjoy the structure of the subject then and was quite lazy. I am a completely different person now and have been contemplating telling that story in the interview if they were to ask me about my biggest failure or something.

Would that be a bad thing to mention?

  • For those not in the UK: how likely is it that an interviewer will even care to ask about your high school performance? I assume they have no way to find out unless you give them a transcript? – Lilienthal Jan 18 '18 at 9:06
  • @Lilienthal If you're recently out of university, quite a bit. They need to see some record of what you've done and with no working achievements, your academic record is the next best bet. They won't go looking for it, but most applicants fresh out of university will include it on their CV to help show their achievements. – Draken Jan 18 '18 at 9:15
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    @Draken Sure, your university transcript, but A levels are high-school level (~ GCSE's?) aren't they? – Lilienthal Jan 18 '18 at 10:28
  • @Lilienthal Just beneath university level and above GCSE level. Don't forget, at university the candidate would have specialised into a singular subject and sometimes people want to see how they deal in other subjects, e.g. Maths. It's not required for the job, but could be a great asset. In the UK, generally, we can't freely choose majors and minors like the US does, the courses there tend to be more strict on what you will be studying as we often do a single honours degree. – Draken Jan 18 '18 at 10:30
  • @Draken Hmm, interesting. I think you could draw a comparison to college transcripts in the US where IIRC most employers won't care about undergrad transcripts if you followed a graduate program. But perhaps we should just create a "Will UK employers care about my A-level / GCSE scores?" question. – Lilienthal Jan 18 '18 at 10:42
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Would that be a bad thing to mention?

If you mention it just like that then surely it won't do any good. I suggest you mention about that subject only if prompted about it, otherwise there is no reason for you to disclose such detail.

If you feel that it is highly likely that you will be asked about that, then I suggest you give it some thought and have an answer ready in case they do ask.

How you phrase it is up to your taste, but you would do better by not denying what happened, and instead focus on the steps and solutions you took in response to such situation, and how that changed you to a better professional.

have been contemplating telling that story in the interview if they were to ask me about my biggest failure or something.

(...or something?) Probably you are over-thinking this one, there are millions of questions they may ask you during an interview, and this one is not one of the most likely.

If this question were asked then it is a tricky one. One way of graciously answering it that I can think of is to say something like: "Well, I am not certain what my 'biggest' mistake may be. However, whenever I make one I try to learn the best I can from it so I don't make it again."

This way you are not openly admitting some flaws (that we all have) and are instead proposing a constructive solution to the situation. Again, maybe you are over-thinking this a bit, but if you really feel this may happen try thinking your answer thoroughly as suggested before.

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    "this one is not one of the most likely" Absolutely disagree. "Tell me about a recent / your biggest failure" is an incredibly popular interview question, especially for graduates, and for good reasons, the main one being that it filters out people who actually prepared for interviews. The answer you suggest, which tries to dodge the question, would be an immediate black mark on your application. Interviewers want to hear how you dealt with a setback and what you took away from it. – Lilienthal Jan 18 '18 at 9:05
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    I suggest you mention about that subject only if prompted about it -- this. – Mister Positive Jan 18 '18 at 12:27
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First thing - an E grade at A-level isn't actually a failing grade.

As for mentioning it in an interview - will you be handing over your grade certificate along with your application? Because the subject and grade should be listed on there as a passing grade (IIRC only an "unclassified" result is not listed on those certificates).

If you do want to mention it as your "biggest failure", you have to remember that this question from an interviewer really means they are looking for how you fixed or learnt from the situation. I wouldn't mention that you "didn't enjoy the structure of the subject then and was quite lazy" - that would immediately be a red flag to me as an interviewer that you can only perform at things you enjoy (unfortunately, we all sometimes have to do something we don't enjoy, and still do it well). Look for something that you can spin into a positive - saying it gave you a kick up the backside and made you appreciate that reward comes from effort would be a much better spin - especially if you can back it up with good performance at university.

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As someone who also "failed" computing at A Level (I got a D, generally in England despite it being a pass mark, most people assume A-C grades are true passes), I see it as a good talking point and one you can pick up. I'm now a developer for a company and have a degree in computer science.

It shows how you've tackled a part of yourself that was possibly weak and you've grown from it and can really help build a character during an interview. As HorusKol has said, you need to use the question to show how you've improved yourself.

I went on after computing to also be a drop-out at a Biochemistry degree, got a job and eventually started work in IT. After several years of that got a degree. Talking about what I've learnt during those informative years really help interviewers learn more about me and how I operate.

It's all experience in the end and the answer to the question is how you've improved yourself. As long as you can build on the "failing" grade at computing to how you are a better person now, then feel free to talk about it

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    Yes, this is the perfect story to tell when you get that "name a time when you've overcome adversity" interview question. A: "Well I had some trouble with A-levels but I was so committed to becoming a developer that I buckled down and got a 3.8 GPA (or whatever you have in the UK) at University". – The Photon Jan 18 '18 at 21:20

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