My resume and my previous (bad) college experience. A question or two...

I’m getting ready to graduate from college in December with a degree in electrical engineering. Naturally, as part of The Great 2001 Job Search, I’ve been talking to professors, checking the employment office at work, building my resume, and generally doing everything I can to present myself properly to a prospective employer.

Here’s the problem: My previous attempt at college, about twelve years ago, started out well but ended up… not so well. To make a long story short, I got a couple of minor scholarships, did a couple of co-ops, but eventually got so burned out on school that my grades collapsed and I was placed on academic suspension. I left school, got a job, and eventually decided to finish my degree at my current school. I’ve done well there and at my current job, but I am pretty worried because of my previous screw-up. I’m not sure what to do about it.

So, the questions:
(1) Should I include this experience on my resume, or even mention my previous college stuff? I know that the purpose of a resume is to make sure I get an interview, so leaving it out wouldn’t hurt. I’m leaning toward just mentioning the fact that I had some previous schooling and co-ops, and expecting to answer some questions about it during the interview. Both options strike me as somewhat dishonest, though. Besides, a prospective employer is sure to find out eventually, either by checking my transcripts (I transferred some coursework from my previous school to my current one) or asking me about the five-year gap between high school and my current job.

(2) Assuming that an employer asks me about my previous college experience, how do I answer that question? Saying that I got distracted and burned out on school doesn’t strike me as the kind of active, professional response that employers are looking for. I am a very different person now, academically and professionally. I’m thinking about casting the experience as an opportunity to learn some hard lessons and achieve some personal growth, which is the truth. But I’m worried that an interviewer might see that as a bunch of BS.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

I’m a Sr. Engineer and I interview engineers all the time. You went to school for a while, decided to drop out and work for a time and then finshed later. What’s the big deal?

Very few people have the tenacity to finish school once they’ve stopped and gone to the working world. I would find that sort of resume impressive. Tell the truth but you don’t need to go into all of that detail. You weren’t sure if school was for you so you went to work for a while and in doing so realized how important a degree was so you finished. End of story.

Drop me an email if you have more questions and include your resume if you would like suggestions. I see lots and lots of resumes from entry level engineers and I can help.


I think I’d tend go the honest route and be willing to answer questions on it.

Has the experience had an effect on you? Has it caused you to rethink things? Are you now a different person as a result of your past experiences?

Fact is, we often ‘grow’ as individuals by learning from our experiences, including our negative ones. Through adversity we can become stronger! Our ‘achilles heal’ can become our greatest strength.

Best wishes with your job-search.

It’s always best to be honest, but you don’t have to be all that detailed. Just ask Gary Condit. Chances are, with experience that old, they aren’t going to ask about it. And, if they do, you can have a pat answer prepared : “School, at that time, wasn’t the right choice for me. I appreciated it so much more the second time around.” They are not going to ask for a transcript, even from your most recent school. The old transcript is in archives now, I’m sure. Don’t worry.

It’s all about spin. Look, this can be and should be presented a positive experience. You are now mature, ready to buckle down, serious about the career, etc. You’re not a 22 year old that’s gonna blow his first 6 months paychecks on booze, blow and broads, and flame out spectacularly on his company. (Well, I don’t know you, maybe you might so don’t highlight that part of your personality.)

I’m being slightly flippant, but seriously you’ve got the maturity of having burned out, probably worked some joe jobs and then decided you were ready to go back to school and be serious. Lot’s of people do the equivalent thing, only it’s graduate, screw around and then get an MBA (which is exactly what I did). Lemme tell you, an engineering degree is a lot more valuable than an MBA. On top of that, you can subtly let people know that you’ve also graduated from the school of hard knocks (that won’t work with Ivy League employers, but it will strike a chord with anyone that wasn’t born with a silver spoon).

Good luck with that job.

Thank you very much for your offer. Check your e-mail when you get a chance (don’t worry, there’s only a couple more questions!).

Everyone else,
The “honest but positive” tack seems to be the right one to take, and I was leaning toward it, but it’s nice to hear it from people with experience in the professional world. If I get turned down for a job, though, I’m blaming all of you! :smiley: Thanks!

You know, you can actually have both.