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Summary: I quit my PhD program due to a medical and financial reason. Now, I apply for jobs in the private sector, and will have interviews soon. Should I disclose the detailed reasons I quit my PhD program during these job interviews ?


So essentially I have encountered a severe medical burden, which turned into a financial burden during my PhD. I already had lost my reason to keep doing my PhD program because my goals in life changed and no longer required it, so this has been like the final nail in the coffin for that academic endeavor.

I applied to a bunch of jobs and at some point or another, the topic of my education will come up in an interview. If this happens, I want to be as transparent as possible without hurting my chances of getting the job.

I do have an interview lined up soon and I only applied to jobs I was genuinely interested in so it's not like I am only doing it for the money. Although the financial burden is a big reason I am now leaving, I don't think I should mention this an interview about my reason for leaving my PhD if the topic comes up correct?

I currently have planned that I will just say I have had some significant life goals that have changed and no longer require me to stay which is why I am leaving and was going to leave it at that.

However, if I can get other's input if I should include the medical and/or financial reasons too and if that would hurt/help, I would appreciate that.

Because I envision that maybe somewhere down the line working there or sooner, it gets out that there was that alternative reason, it may hurt me later on?

Like if they call my university to check that I have the masters and my uni tells them "oh yes but they're also on a medical leave of absence." and they find out that way and then may retract their offer because I wasn't fully transparent.

I also don't want them to think they would be taking on a "lame goat" that won't be useful when I still very much am even with the new health issues I have.


Edit: I apply for jobs in the private sector.

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  • Do you plan to apply for jobs in the private sector or in the academic world ? Jul 7 at 23:06
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    If the university tells someone you are on medical leave of absence, you sue their **** off them. Since universities are not stupid, they won't tell.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 8 at 8:25
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    It pays to always tell the truth in an interview. You can wax lyrical to a certain extent but the truth is important. Some things you can choose not to disclose but if you decide to answer a question, tell the truth.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jul 8 at 19:09
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    @Anon, In the US and many other countries, you have the right to your privacy, and won't have to disclose your medical issues to the hiring teams during the face-to-face interviews with the hiring managers. (Please see my answer for more details). BTW, if you want to, you can add your country tag to your question for more info. Jul 8 at 20:24
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    In Germany, not only would the question be illegal, it is explicitly legal to lie when asked illegal questions, and the company is not allowed to hold this against you in any way. Q: “Are you pregnant?” US answer: “That question is illegal” and you don’t get the job. German answer: “Oh no, I hate children”, gets the job, goes on maternity leave 5 months later.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 13 at 14:38

4 Answers 4

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No, you don't have to volunteer to disclose the detailed reasons you quit your PhD program. If nobody asks, then you don't need to say anything about that.

If the hiring managers ask you the reason, you can give them a general answer such as "Due to my personal circumstance, I decide to quit the PhD program, and look for a job." And, they will be happy with that answer.

It does not benefit the employers in any way to know why you quit your PhD.

A vast majority of jobs in the private sector do not even require the candidates to have a PhD degree in order to apply for the jobs, or to be successful at the jobs.

Realistically, in the private sector, I am pretty sure that most employers will not ask you why you quit your PhD during the job interviews. They will be more interested in knowing what practical skills and experiences you have to match the job requirements, and whether you can do a good job for their companies.

Therefore, it is highly unlikely that the employers will try to contact your university to find out the reason you quit your PhD because it has nothing to do with your job qualifications. I would say that there is a "zero chance" that they will try to do that.

BTW, in the US and many other countries, you have the right to your privacy, and won't have to disclose your medical issues to the hiring teams during the face-to-face interviews with the hiring managers.

In fact, in the US, when you apply for jobs, on the application forms, some companies may ask you if you have any medical conditions, and you only have to select a checkbox to say either "YES" or "NO", but, you do NOT have to specify the names of the medical conditions such "high blood pressure", "diabetes", etc... because this is considered personal, confidential, and private information. More importantly, all US companies will also say that your answer either "YES" or "NO" will NOT be used to decide whether they offer you a job or not. In other words, the hiring managers will not be able to know your answer about your health and medical conditions in the application forms, and they won't know if you any medical condition or not. Instead, this answer will only be used for the companies' statistics because, for example, if they are a contractor for the government, then they are required to present this statistics to the governments for certain reasons.

(Note: I am not sure which country you are in as you did not mention that in your question).


If you apply for jobs in the academic world, then some interviewers may likely ask why you quit your PhD.

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  • Sorry for the late reply, thank you for the advice! I did get my top job without having to disclose exactly why even though it was hinted at in a question. I just said "I just decided I would rather be working now than continuing my education, but I will consider returning to it in the future possibly" and the manager was satisfied with that. And yeah I am in the US.
    – Anon
    Jul 30 at 22:45
  • @Anon, Congrats !!!!!!!! Jul 31 at 2:53
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I'm hiring a lot of people, often doing 4 interviews a day - I avoid doing more as it may cause me to lose focus. In all of this, I've only been interested in why someone has left a particular position once per 10-20 interviews, and these tend to be top-paying positions as opposed to a PhD.

A job interview in the private sector isn't an evaluation of you as a person in all your entirety. It's a business discussion where you figure out if you can bring value to the company, if that value will considerably exceed the cost of hiring and retaining you, and if you're offering the best return. Cultural fit is very important, but it's not about your every single decision.

If asked why you have left this position, or that PhD, what the employer really wants to know is whether you'll leave them prematurely. It may also be an evaluation of your overall judgment.

I recommend that you tailor your communication to answer these two questions:

  1. What factors into your decisions?
  2. What is different about your new employer that will keep you on?

One of the worst possible responses (except for being fired for cause) would be "I was bored. IDK, maybe it's more fun with you guys".

In your case, fortunately, it's well known that PhD programs are often a money drain. A response that you had added financial obligations will be well sufficient.

If you want to impress the interviewer with your response, consider honest answers to these two questions. One example of an answer I would rate as a strong pro-hire factor would be:

"I started my PhD with the goal of [cite goal]. Later, I took on some new financial obligations, and I had [x months or years] before completing my PhD.
I've learned most of what I had set out to learn in the program, such as [cite your biggest takeaway]. Academic work, for me, has turned out to lack [cite specific things]. I've decided that an industry career fits me better, giving me a chance to [cite what specifically you're looking forward to in your new position]."

It will show that your priorities align with your new job, and it will show that you consider the value of your options before making decisions.

This isn't a canned response, because you have to fill in the blanks - what you fill them with is what will set you apart from the rest. But it is a good framework for delivering this value to your interviewer.

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  • Sorry for the late reply, thank you for the advice! I did get my top job without having to disclose exactly why even though it was hinted at in a question. I pretty much answered those two questions to them and they were satisfied with the answers.
    – Anon
    Jul 30 at 22:47
  • This is excellent advice because it so clearly illustrates the seemingly contradictory fact that a company doesn't really care but might still ask the question! Aug 2 at 20:50
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Summary: I quit my Ph.D. program due to a medical and financial reason. Now, I apply for jobs in the private sector, and will have interviews soon. Should I disclose the detailed reasons I quit my PhD program during these job interviews ?

Only if you are asked about it. It could make you look bad so don't volunteer that piece of information. The interview is not about telling your whole life story. It is just about every party getting to know each other well enough to decide if they can move further with the process.

I know when you start job hunting you consider a thousand things that you may get asked. This can be made worse by the fact that rightly or wrongly not finishing your Ph.D. may feel like a failing on your part. So stressing about having to explain something that is an embarrassment to you may cause you to stress (Even if it should not).

Do know the interview is not your cross-examination. This is not your trial. For the most part, you want a job, and the people you are applying to want an employee.

So you are two people/institutions that have exactly what the other party wants. They are not going to try and trick you. They just want the best employee they can find and that person can very easily be you. It is a lot less nerve-wracking than you may think.

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All other answers are right. No need to say if not asked for, however I wanted to add an additional detail. Is the fact that you started the Phd relevant? If not, simply omit it from your CV.

Usually non finished studies don’t make it into the CV unless they are relevant. You maywant to put it in if you consider it a plus that you intend to bring up during the interview to “improve your case”. If you don’t you can simply omit it. Nobody will ask you about something they don’t know exist and no one could blame you for not putting something that you haven’t finished on your CV. If anything it would only be seen as honesty.

And please don’t concern yourself with your university (or anyone) disclosing your medical condition. That would be ilegal anyway as that’s confidential between yourself and the uni and you would make more than enough to compensate by the lost of the job by suing them for disclosing personal medical details.

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  • Depending on how long those studies lasted and whether or not they were working at the same time, they might need to be on the CV to show that they were doing something during that time. Long gaps with no detail on a CV aren't ideal.
    – ColleenV
    Aug 2 at 19:28

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