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I am a "new grad", looking for graduate roles at companies.

In my sophomore and junior years, I was a victim of clinical depression (due to conditions created by the pandemic). Interviewers notice that most of the things listed on my resume are from freshman or senior year, and often also notice the slight reduction in GPA over the years (through transcript).

They then question about why that happened.

Depression is still sort of a taboo among the society; and might be considered more negatively than a slightly reduced GPA.

Should I even mention about depression in the interviews when the question comes up? How do I handle this?

I am interviewing at multinational companies for roles in different countries.

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  • Did any interviewer ask about it as well or was it just the recruiters?
    – androidguy
    Jan 9, 2023 at 10:07
  • 3
    What do you normally say about your studies? Where I live, normally people just tell us from when to when their studies took and what grade the finished with (if at all, most just list their title, i.e. BSc XXX). How do people know that there is a gap and your grades dropped? Is that something that you bring into that talk or is it normal that interviewers know that much detail?
    – nvoigt
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:09
  • 28
    Why is it listed per year? Why not just say "2019-2022 University of Citytown, graduated $Date as BSC"? Is that a requirement to list details by year, or is is that something you do and can change?
    – nvoigt
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:13
  • 2
    @nvoigt School is written as from '19 to '22. But, the projects, internships, extracurrics are all listed in the resume with years (that's how people at my univ do it) and are done in '19 or '22
    – whoisit
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:15
  • 3
    @JoeStrazzere Why "I had medical issues" rather than "I was sick"?
    – gerrit
    Jan 9, 2023 at 18:22

7 Answers 7

127

Don't. Especially if it's no longer causing major problems.

I'd go with something true, but which doesn't create a negative impression.

Now this happened during the pandemic, so that's an ideal way to explain it. Something like:

My studies and extracurriculars were severely disrupted during those 2 years by the pandemic

This statement is true. Provides a legitimate explanation for why you weren't as effective those years. Doesn't invite any further questions. And also does nothing to suggest you have any current/ongoing issue.

An interview isn't a confessional an interrogation or a courtroom. You generally shouldn't lie, but you should also try to only highlight things which make you look good and will make the interviewer want to hire you.

Or, more often, just make sure you don't give them any reason not to hire you.

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  • 36
    @whoisit It affected different people in different ways. Some people came through basically unscathed. Others got really ill. Had family and friends die. All sorts of things. So it's not unusual to have been hit badly. And most people aren't going to ask about the details.
    – Kaz
    Jan 9, 2023 at 12:05
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    While I agree with the "just say medical condition now resolved; they don't need to know details" answer, I think this is the better answer to start with. It's true, and probably sufficient; many people have struggled for various reasons, including depression which exceeded their established coping skills. Though in some communities depression is no longer a taboo topic and folks understand that it's treatable, I would still hesitate to volunteer mine in an interview; I don't know how this one individual will respond and I'd play it safe just in case.
    – keshlam
    Jan 9, 2023 at 13:56
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    My son started college during the pandemic. Talk about a different college experience - and none of it particularly good. I think all hiring people will understand there were (hopefully) unique circumstances and many extracurriculars just didn't happen.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 9, 2023 at 14:25
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    I would remove the word "generally" from the penultimate paragraph, but otherwise a very good answer.
    – bob
    Jan 9, 2023 at 20:40
  • 2
    @whoisit While it may sound like an excuse, it's one that everyone understands. There's a good chance the interviewer either suffered themselves or knows people who did, so they'll be sympathetic.
    – Barmar
    Jan 10, 2023 at 16:55
61

First step: don't draw attention to the fact that there is a gap. An interview (and your resume) is marketing. You should not lie, but you are not required to set up blinking lights pointing at potential problems either. Present your best side.

HR people need to get a feel for you and they will pick any talking point from your resume. They have no idea what your internships were about or what your projects mean, that would require subject matter expertise. So they will look at formalities. A gap in your resume is their chance to get some work done for free. An interview cheat code basically. Obviously you should not lie, but there is no point in making it easy and pointing right at it.

So instead of saying:

2019/06/01 - 2019/09/30: Internship at ACME Corp
2019/10/01 - 2019/12/31: University Project Title
glaring gap
2022/01/01 - 2022/05/31: University Project Title2
2022/06/01 - 2022/11/31: Internship at EGO Ltd. 2022/08/01 Graduated from University of Citytown with BSc

Make it more diffuse. List the information relevant, without leaving a gaping hole in the middle for people to pick up and talk about:

2019-2022 University of Citytown BSc

Including Internships:

  • 3 Months at ACME Corp
  • 5 Months at EGO Ltd

Including Projects:

  • 2 Months Title
  • 5 Months Title2

Personally, I like the improved version better, because as an interviewer, I really don't care if your internship was in February or May. Or whether it was 2020 or 2021. It's not wine. I care about the length, because that translates to experience and I appreciate the fact that you saved me from doing basic math for every point on your resume.

When asked about the bullet points: great. Talk about them. When asked why your graduation took you a year longer than your classmates, just say you had a medical issue that is taken care of, but since it was in the pandemic, everything took longer and was more complicated. In any civilized country, that should be the end of this topic, if the other side does not want to open themselves to lawsuits. You had a health problem. It's fixed. That's all they need to know.

5
  • 3
    Upvoted this answer due to the good insight of recommended improvements. If they ask, you could legitimately say that you were focused on some other tasks/goals in life, but your time wasn't as devoted to tasks related to the current profession. There are plenty of perfectly innocent activities a person might have been diving into (perhaps making art? perhaps doing other things with friends?) that aren't red flags, so while that might not help you, it probably won't hurt so much either, and hopefully addresses the gap briefly so the conversation can just quickly move on.
    – TOOGAM
    Jan 9, 2023 at 22:06
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    I had similar problem (graduating a year late), most of the time they will ask because of curiosity, a very simplified version of the reasoning is enough. And the other times they focused on more interesting topic (previous experience, projects) due to my CV highlighting stuff I am proud of.
    – Alvi15
    Jan 10, 2023 at 6:53
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    "It's not wine". Made my day - still laughing. Jan 10, 2023 at 12:57
  • Also. A resume does not need GPAs for individual years. I've never seen anything more detailed than the GPAs for individual institutions. You can put projects in to talk about what skills you might have, but they shouldn't need grades.
    – davolfman
    Jan 10, 2023 at 19:59
  • I took five years to do a BA which is normally three years, and have never been asked about that. Am I missing something? Jan 12, 2023 at 15:43
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Typically you would simply state that you had a medical condition during that time, if queried on it, could provide a medical certificate proving as much. In addition, you could offer to provide a certificate proving a fitness to work.

Even if depression was not "taboo" in society, potential employers have no right to know the specifics of your medical history.

9
  • 3
    @androidguy They don't need a reason to reject someone. With respect to your second question, you get a "fit to work" certificate from your doctor to prove you are fit to work. Jan 9, 2023 at 10:28
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    @gerrit You say "I was sick" when you had a cold. You say "I had a medical condition" when you required focused/specialized treatment during an extended period of time.
    – Josh Part
    Jan 9, 2023 at 19:50
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    @gerrit To be honest, I don't understand how "a medical condition" is convoluted. It's the correct terminology that is used to refer anything that will have some sort of impact. It also implies that condition was diagnosed by a medical professional, not just a general sickness, or a malaise. Jan 10, 2023 at 13:09
  • 3
    Despite many employers thinking otherwise, "employers have no right to know the specifics of your medical history" is 100% true. (In most cases, I recognize there are some positions where certain medical conditions can be detrimental to job performance/safety and must be disclosed.)
    – FreeMan
    Jan 10, 2023 at 13:22
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    @gerrit "medical condition" sounds more formal. One might say "I had a confidential medical condition" but not "I was confidentially sick". Using "medical condition" instead of "sickness" is more likely to put the listener into a formal/legalistic mindset where they make the connection to medical privacy and confidentiality.
    – R.M.
    Jan 10, 2023 at 16:07
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Leave your life story for your biographer.

There is this tendency in today's culture to over-share every aspect of our lives. We tend to want to think every person we come in contact with is part of an audience.

This for the most part has a benign effect on our lives, but do be wary of over-sharing things during work hours.

There needs to be at least a bit of discipline in the way you conduct yourself during work interviews. It is a negotiation on both ends. It is also a courtship in certain ways.

Just be wary of over-sharing too early. You would not discuss how many children you want on the first date now would you?

There will be plenty of time for people to build working relationships in whatever the amount of formality the environment operates under.

There is a certain amount of apprehension from employers when they search for employees.

In certain ways an employee can be either the best or worst thing to happen to a business. It is also not possible for even experienced hiring managers to predict how an employee is going to turn out with any real amount of certainty.

So be aware that it is a sizeable trust exercise and don't let a loose-ness with words needlessly play on employers fears.

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    +1 This title is gold - I need to invoke this to the over-sharers in my social media circles, "As Neil Meyer once said..." xD Point well made.
    – Blackhawk
    Jan 9, 2023 at 22:06
  • It is also a recurring them on interview question here.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 9, 2023 at 22:17
  • I dunno about you but I'm gonna have multiple biographers, not just one Jan 11, 2023 at 2:40
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Don't give your interviewer any ammunition that they can use to discriminate against you. It's illegal in many locales to discriminate based on a medical condition that doesn't directly impact your ability to do the job. People may still discriminate against you subconsciously, though, so it's best if you don't talk about it at all. For the most part, it shouldn't even be relevant.

Interviewers notice that most of the things listed on my resume are from freshman or senior year

I think your resume is too itemized. Which year something happened isn't really important, as two people at the same university can take courses in a different order and get the same education. It's simpler to simply say that you were at university for years X-Y, and then give a list of relevant courses and accomplishments. Interviewers read a lot of resumes, so keep it short and focused.

and often also notice the slight reduction in GPA over the years

This is perfectly normal. Courses get harder as you go, so changes in GPA are not at all unusual. I know my own GPA was all over the place from one semester to the next. Most employers won't look at your transcript in that much detail, though. They might look at your overall GPA, plus your grades in one or two specific courses that are relevant to the job.

You mentioned that the underlying cause of the issue was the pandemic. If your academic "low" period corresponds to that particular time in history, I doubt anybody will bat an eye. That's when students were suddenly forced to attend class remotely, instructors had to figure out how to re-structure their courses for remote instruction on short notice, etc. It was a rough time for students and educators alike, and nobody was performing at normal levels during that time. I'd be willing to bet almost every recent graduate's resume would show interesting group projects and internships in 2019, and then none in 2020-21. If asked about it, "that's when the pandemic hit and we all went remote" would be an accurate and perfectly adequate answer. As an interviewer, I'd be a lot more suspicious if a student tried to claim that they did have extracurriculars, group projects, etc during that time.

3
  • "People may still discriminate against you subconsciously, though" Or just cite any other reason. Or maybe not even any reason at all ("we decided to move forward with another candidate" if you're lucky enough to hear something).
    – Dnomyar96
    Jan 11, 2023 at 13:43
  • Depression can and often does have a real effect on job performance. Also in my locale at least, employment laws only actually give protection when employment starts.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 14, 2023 at 7:35
  • @NeilMeyer True, but that shouldn't be an issue here because OP mentioned in a comment that the depression had been treated and resolved.
    – bta
    Jan 18, 2023 at 19:43
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For what it's worth, I am quite open about my past and ongoing mental health struggles with my workplace. I'm in Australia, and as much as there is still a hell of a long way to go for all modern societies to fully understand, accept and address mental health, we're probably doing a bit better than average over here.

A very similar scenario to yours happened when I interviewed for my current role. My CV goes from a couple of reasonable, professional roles with a clear career path, to window cleaning and a few other short bits and pieces. The interviewer (now my boss) essentially asked "what went wrong?".

I was quite upfront and explained that I had burnt out following some intense roles early on, and gone through 4~5 years of being quite depressed and lost. I'm mostly doing a lot better now thanks to improved medication and work I've done to get myself back on track. And I had the advantage of having gone so well getting back on track that I had retrained and worked successfully for two years in a similar role to the one I was interviewing for, so my CV had improved following the 'gap'.

He said "I appreciate your honesty", and I got the job. I work as a data scientist for a multinational manufacturing company.

I can't guarantee that this will work for you everywhere, and I'm sure that different countries, cultures and individual people will vary significantly. And it depends on how confident you feel about your ability to get hired elsewhere.

But the way I thought about it was "if they're put off/don't want to hire me because I've suffered from depression in the past, then I probably don't want to work for them."

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  • 1
    I do something like this now I'm established in my career, with a different set of health things - but I definitely hesitated about it early on. I don't want to be someone who is like "absolutely do not bring up health stuff in interview", but I think it's different being a new graduate, and having very little to tell you apart from other candidates.
    – lupe
    Jan 11, 2023 at 9:39
2

Go with the "soft" answer, don't use strong words like depression. Here's what I suggest:

It was hard during the pandemic but now that it's over I'm looking forward to my next role.

The important thing is not the words, but the tone. It needs to be "soft" and kind of downplay reality. Why are we downplaying reality? Because it was the past and there was a strong factor, i.e. the "temporary event" (pandemic). People don't put that into perspective. You are now out of it and feeling optimistic and ready to start a new chapter of your life, the past is the past and it had it's reasons.

Also one more thing: The more you focus on this time period and use strong words (like depression for example), the more they suspect that you haven't gotten over it and it's still happening. However the more you shrug it off and use a couple of soft words to answer the question, the more they know that you have come out of it and it's a thing of the past. I suggest a reply of a maximum of 1 sentence.

1
  • Using the term mental health instead of depression is probably better. Not dodging the question or lying but still being diplomatic.
    – Neil Meyer
    Jan 14, 2023 at 7:32

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