Mitigating circumstances are serious, often unforeseen reasons or events that prevented you from achieving your expected academic results, which graduate recruiters may take into account when processing job applications. Common reasons include bereavement, illness (both physical and mental) and your parents getting a divorce. Other reasons might include being a carer while studying or suffering a real financial crisis. However, recruiters tell us that being dumped by your boyfriend or girlfriend or the demise of a pet, while sad, probably don’t cut it. Part-time working for the hours recommended by your university is also unlikely to count.
Should you disclose your mitigating circumstances?
Students may feel uncomfortable about disclosing their mitigating circumstances, especially if they involve mental health issues. As with disclosing any disability, this is a personal choice. However, if the employers you want to apply to insist on a 2.1 and you have a lower grade, you can still be considered if you inform them of your mitigating circumstances. If you don’t, you will find yourself being filtered out.
How do you inform recruiters that you have mitigating circumstances, if you choose to?
You can usually find out which organisations welcome applicants with mitigating circumstances by looking at their graduate recruitment webpages – information can usually be found in the FAQ sections. If the employer doesn’t mention it, do email or phone the recruitment team (or go up to them at a careers fair) and ask whether they’d still consider you if you applied, given your mitigating circumstances.
Most recruiters will have space on their application forms for details of mitigating circumstances. Some will require you to upload corroboration from your university. For example, an employer may require proof from your university/examining body and could check that your situation wasn’t already taken into account during the marking process.
What do you say?
You don’t need to go into painful detail about the extenuating circumstances. For example, if you have suffered from illness (physical or mental), you could just state something like: ‘I was ill during my second year, which affected my ability to carry out my work, and I received a 55% average instead of the 65% average of my first year.’ This level of detail should do for any mitigating circumstance but, if you feel the need to add more, concentrate on the strategies you used to overcome your difficulties and continue studying.
A graduate recruiter may contact you by phone to help them pinpoint what your extenuating circumstances were, but will understand that you might not wish to discuss them in detail and will seek to handle the situation as sensitively as possible.
Tell your university
It's a good idea to talk to your personal tutor, or 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 marking and/or extending deadlines. An employer may subsequently ask for your permission to talk to your tutor. For example, the recruiter may wish to check whether you are considered to be of 2.1 calibre, if that is the standard that has been set for filtering applications.
What if your university doesn't know? It's still worth contacting the employer to see whether they will consider you. After all, they can only say no.
Resilience is attractive
Resilience is a highly sought after quality by graduate recruiters and they appreciate it when students have managed to continue studying when life gets in the way, even if the grades are a little less than they would have been. Employers understand that sometimes students go through difficult times and their studies can suffer because of situations that may not be under their control. You should be well placed to impress them if you can show how you have dealt with adversity and become a stronger person.