What to Do When Things Don't Go According to Plan
Mitigating circumstances are serious, often unforeseen reasons or events that prevented you from achieving the expected academic results that graduate recruiters may take into account when processing job applications.
Common reasons include bereavement, illness (both physical and mental), your parents getting a divorce, being a caretaker of a dependent while studying, or suffering a real financial crisis.
While upsetting, being dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend or the demise of a pet probably doesn't count. Neither is a traffic jam or a public transport disruption on the day of your exams an acceptable excuse.
A mitigating circumstance is not something to be taken lightly, and should be handled with the appropriate sensitivity.
Should I disclose my mitigating circumstances?
It’s normal to feel uncomfortable about disclosing mitigating circumstances, especially if it involves mental health difficulties or a psychological impairment – these can be very personal issues.
It’s entirely up to you to decide if you should disclose this – as would be the case with disclosing a disability.
However, if your potential employer insists on a GPA of 3.0 and you have a lower grade due to any disruption caused during your study or examinations, you might still be considered if you inform them.
How do I inform recruiters that I have mitigating circumstances, if I choose to?
Some organisations welcome applicants with mitigating circumstances, so long as you have an appropriate amount of evidence to back your case up. Try looking at their graduate recruitment web pages to learn about their policies towards such circumstances.
If you can't find anything there, try e-mailing or calling the recruitment team (or go up to them at a careers fair) and ask whether they’d still consider you.
Most recruiters will have space on their application forms for details of mitigating circumstances. You may need to upload corroboration from your university and prove that your university/examining body hasn’t already taken into account these difficulties during the grading process.
If you feel comfortable doing so, you may also consult an advisor at career services to see if they can offer any suggestions or help you gather the necessary corroboration.
What do I say?
You don't need to go into too much detail about the extenuating circumstances. You can try to break the news by focusing on how the problems affected your academic performance.
For example, you could say that during the period in question, your average was 65 percent, instead of the 85 percent average that you’d attained earlier. Giving employers a past frame of reference to work with will help put things in perspective.
This level of detail should cover it, but if you feel the need to add more, concentrate on the strategies you used to overcome your difficulties and continue studying.
Turn the talk away from your shortcomings, and focus instead on your strengths and accomplishments, no matter how little they may seem.
This isn't just about painting yourself in a favourable light before recruiters – you'd be surprised at how much it might encourage you too.
Tell your university
You should talk to your personal tutor, or to another lecturer to whom you feel close, about your mitigating circumstances at the time.
They can help ensure that your university takes them into account while grading and/or when it comes to the issue of extending deadlines for assignments.
Employers may approach you to ask for permission to talk to academic staff about any difficulties you have had – if your tutor or lecturer knows about the issues, they’ll be in a better position to vouch for your real ability.
Lastly, even if your university doesn’t know (or refuses to consider your circumstances), try contacting the employer anyway. After all, the worst they can do is only to say "no".
What if I have a disability?
Deciding on the appropriate time to inform an employer of a disability or existing mental condition can be a difficult decision.
A range of factors can influence this decision, including the type of disability, the issue of support, and the reactions of both employers and colleagues to your disclosure.
You may also be influenced by negative reactions to your disclosure in the past, or the fear that you will be treated unfairly when searching for employment.
In some cases, the disability may be apparent to the employer. In these cases, the issue of disclosure is, by default, decided by the nature of the disability.
In other cases, you may need to work with a careers advisor or external specialist if you feel comfortable doing so in order to make an informed decision about the best course of action.
While some employers here in Singapore admittedly need time to become more aware of the issue of disability, there are also many progressive employers who are starting to adopt equal opportunities policies and will approach any accommodation you may need with goodwill.
However, remember that employers can only accommodate your needs if they know about your disability. So it is in your interest and your responsibility to let them know about it, along with the steps that they can take to help.
Resilience is attractive
Regardless of the outcome, remember that resilience is a highly sought-after quality by graduate recruiters. They are still human, after all, and they appreciate when students have managed to persevere, even if your grades are less than they could have been.
Proving that you have dealt effectively with adversity and moved on can only be a positive thing.