I am from Austria and currently pursuing my master's degree in mechanical engineering. I will finish in about a year, then two years overdue (for people who pay fortunes for education this sounds reckless, in countries where education is less expensive it is a little more common however to take longer, I believe).

Setback phase

Reasons for the delay are overestimation of myself, underestimation of the complexity of my studies and general lack of worldly knowledge.

I started working four years ago, during my studies, on a flexible basis of around eight hours a week to full time during holidays.

Additionally I get paid for playing soccer, so I regard this as part hobby part job. This occupies me around 15 hours a week. And has done so for ten years now.

At some point I simply did not have enough time to study, failed exams and fell behind schedule.

Work went well during this time, I was and still am regarded as smart and dilligent at my company. Working freed me in some way from the shame of failing at university, because at work I was unemcumbered and therefore able to show what I am actually capable of.

The turnaround

Nevertheless I was determined to work hard to get my studies back on track. I took classes in time management, learned concentration techniques, structured all parts of my life very neatly. Furthermore I tried to get into a mindset of endless learing, as in "I am not perfect, far from it, and want to become a better person in all regards everyday."

This is an ongoing process obviously and I intend to keep it that way for the rest of my life.

Recent events

I am due for a talk about my future at my company. I myself initiated it and the proposal was met with joy from the HR department. There is an informal understanding that I will stay at the company after my degree, and this meeting is to discuss the position that will be left open for me. Present at the meeting will be the CEO, head of HR department and probably someone else also from HR.

The question

The company does not know about my situation as detailed as I described it above. They know that university is taking me longer than minimum alloted time, but the CEO himself did take a little longer with his studies, as he once told me.

They do not know that I struggled a lot, exhibited certain not so favorable traits (bad concentration, overestimation of my abilities, lack of hindsight, lack of time management, snootiness, ...) repeatedly to the point of almost failing university.

So, if the question of why it took me longer comes up:

Do I explain my situation in detail or do I just brush it off as a setback phase in my life?

I do not want to shed a light on said bad traits, that I am already slowly but surely obliterating.

There are two cases that bother me:

  • Not going into details (which, from a company standpoint will probably be fine) and therefore not connecting bad traits with my person.

  • Going into details, as I am proud of what I have achieved and that I got myself back on track. Exhibits willingness to improve myself.

3 Answers 3


Provide some details — if they ask. I would tell them about why it took you longer and about the turnaround. You where able to get yourself back on track, this is something to be proud of. It does show willingness to improve and also the willingness to put time and effort into mastering your job and your life. This is something that can come across positively. A lot of companies want to see how you deal with challenges in your life and career. This experience shows that you are somebody who can overcome challenges, it is positive.

You do not need to go into details. You could probably spend an hour talking about what challenges you faced in this time and how you overcame them, don't. Keep it short and sweet. I was faced with X challenges and solved them by doing X things. Yes it took you longer to finish studying, but you learned from it.

If they are happy with your work they will keep you. As it sounds to me you are already in a good position at this company and they aare happy with the work you are doing. They are considering your candidacy and they already know it will take you longer to finish. The reason why it took you longer is not likely to change their minds (well unless it was something like you where stealing from the University or doing other criminal things).

  • 1
    I like this because it does seem like the company has already made a positive assessment about the quality of OP as an employee, and they are excited to have him/her continue with the greater knowledge/training/qualifications. If the degree requirements are met, it already seems like they've indicated that the additional time was not an issue. It might be different in assessing a new candidate, where their class performance might be one of the few factors to evaluate, but that's not the case here. Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 15:50
  • I did not plan to burst out into a melancholic story about how sad my life had been. However I am happy about your answer as it confirms things I was not sure about. Definitely helped me.
    – pat3d3r
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 8:23
  • @pat3d3r Glad I could help. From your question I had guessed that you would not likely turn it into a melancholic story (you don't seem to have a 'poor me' attitude) but I thought it is an important point for other people who might face the same question.
    – user74534
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 8:41
  • @IsakCombrinck You are absolutely right, I did not mean to sound selfish.
    – pat3d3r
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 11:50

If the question of why it took you longer comes up, I think the best thing to do would be to be honest, but positive.

You do not need to directly explain the situation with as much detail as you provided here. As you said, it is not that uncommon to take 2 years longer to finish your university. Just explain briefly in positive terms: You took the 2 years, and in those 2 years you learned how to balance work, a full time university study and 15 hours of sports. You developed your time-management skills, you learned concentration techniques. You needed the 2 years to develop the skills needed to become a successful employee, which is what education is for! Try and answer in terms of what you achieved during your education.

There is no need to mention your bad traits, unless you think they might still be/become big problems. From what I am reading, this is not the case, you have already learned how to deal with those traits. Then it is always better to mention progress or achievements. If you mention that you learned time-management skills, this will sound much better then 'I was unable to manage my time'. The first indicates a problem solved, the second might suggest time management is still a problem for you.

You have worked for the company for four years now, and according to your own words: "I was and still am regarded as smart and diligent at my company." This is important. It means you should not worry too much about your bad traits, since they did not significantly influence how people at your company see you. It also means that it will make being positive as described above much easier, because if you are lucky, nobody at work ever noticed that you even had these traits.

  • 1
    Good answer but I'd add that you need to explain it briefly. Don't spend too much time on that topic. You had this and that reason, you're now in a different mindset/dynamic/whatever, proof are your recent successes, and here you go. If you spend 10minutes explaining why you failed a year, your interview is a failure.
    – Tim
    Commented Jul 27, 2017 at 11:28
  • My first thought was to be honest and, maybe equally important, congruent. Shows that you have a personality. But I was not sure how to incorporate my evolution without mentioning what triggered it. Now I will take your advice into consideration.
    – pat3d3r
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 8:18
  • Don't bring it up unless asked
  • Be honest
  • Frame it properly.

I failed out of college twice, then I went to a trade school and succeeded.

The important thing in the workplace and in life in general is not that we avoid making mistakes but that we learn from them.

Even us established gray beards who have been doing this for decades were once young, inexperienced, full of arrogance and energy, and quick to make mistakes.

Becoming a better person is, hopefully, an on going process that ends with the burial.

If asked about any difficulties you had, be honest but frame it in the same way you framed your question, especially in the turnaround part. THAT got my interest and that is the part you should focus on.

You made mistakes, you accepted the fact that the fault was your own, you examined your situation and then took steps to improve your situation and most importantly followed through.

Don't be embarrassed by your past but don't brush it off as a setback. Hold on to it to both keep yourself humble and to acknowledge your growth as a person.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .