Q: I started a college degree, but I was young and foolish, and the course didn’t suit me. I lumbered along for a year and a half before cutting my (well, my parents’) losses. The following year I started again and this time I enjoyed the course much more and saw it through to completion, and even went on to get a masters earlier this summer. I’m now writing my CV as I go job-searching in earnest for the first time. Should I even mention the earlier course? I don’t want them to think I’m a quitter (AC, email).
A: Oh, to be young again, and foolish too: you’re not the first student who failed to go the full distance on their first choice – and you won’t be the last either.
I feel you should include the time you did on the first degree programme, because otherwise there may be a significant gap on your CV. Unexplained gaps might be wrongly interpreted by the reader: control this by putting in the years, the name of the degree and a note to say you left this programme to pursue your other, emerging area of interest. Because, ultimately, that’s what you did.
A bump in the road
Career paths are rarely linear. Everybody has a bump or two along the way. Yours came early, and you’re all the luckier for that. The fact that it occurred recently means that this bump likely occupies a disproportionate place in your thoughts. You need to see it for what it is: a temporary diversion down the wrong road before you reversed back out and found the right path. Even the best satnavs can land us in farmyards at times.
You needn’t overstate the foolishness of your youth in either the CV or the interview. Discontented students often make a mess of a course, but you have clearly proven that you were able to recover. You’re no quitter.
Instead of persisting with the consequences of your wrong decision at 17 or 18, you fought your way onto a different ladder, and you have excelled there since. Get that across in your CV and interview.
The chain of events you have outlined displays that you are suited to the career you are now pursuing, and that insight, properly transmitted, will reassure employers and recruiters. I care not how often you fall, but only how often you get up again…
Career change has been a feature of the working world for quite some time. While you might wish you had a wholly logical timeline leading from school through university and onto your chosen career, few employers expect to see that sort of coherent continuum.
The economic downturn of a decade ago, coupled with the still unfolding consequences of the pandemic, means that almost everybody has chopped and changed. Look at people ten years older than you. See the changes they’ve made.
Your job now is to show them the value you offer, including the fact that you have taken steps to enter a career that suits you. You’re not just going through the motions in a field that doesn’t interest you. The enthusiasm that comes from working in an area you like is vital. Onwards and upwards, and best of luck with the next phase, and don’t wish the foolishness away too quickly…
Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.
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