Interviewing after dropping out
Dear Ronnie Ann,
I recently interviewed for a position in the company where I am an intern. My interviewer asked me why I left law school after one year, and I couldn’t give him a satisfactory answer. He later suggested that I should come up with a good answer for this question. (I am currently getting a second bachelor’s in computer sciences, so it’s a career change.)
I left law school about 10 years ago after something horrible and very personal happened to me (details omitted for privacy) and that led to deep depression and lack of motivation and ultimately to my resignation. Thankfully, I have since healed and moved on. In the intervening time I’ve had mostly office assistant jobs, but now I’m ready to start my new career.
So why did you leave?
The only problem is I don’t know how to answer this question about why I left law school. I don’t want to bring up such a negative experience with a potential employer, but I don’t want to lie either. In the past, I settled on “I was dissatisfied with the law, and I wanted to follow another path.”
But something about this answer is not convincing, so I’m seeking advice on what I can say. Though I regret leaving my interest in the law behind, I am enjoying my current career path, as new as it is.
One of my interviewer’s ideas was that I could simply eliminate law school entirely from my resume. I don’t want to do this if I don’t have to, but I am willing if it’s necessary.
Thank you for your help!
My response to K.Z.
First let me say how sorry I am that you had to go through such an awful experience, but I’m glad you’re doing well now. For some people dropping out of law school can actually be a smart career decision.
Let me just tell you that I also went to law school for a year and, for very different reasons, decided it wasn’t for me. I’ve had many interviews and offers since then. And when it has come up, just explaining my decision with conviction was enough.
So I can’t help wondering if you may be communicating something else in the way you answer. Maybe there are some remnant feelings that are showing when you talk about that time in your life.
Practicing interview answers can help
Perhaps you could try practicing into a recorder or on video until you feel comfortable with your own answer. Or maybe just write it out and keep writing until you get it all out, since there may still be some issues connected to the awful events that show when you bring up law school in front of an interviewer.
I just want to make sure there aren’t any feelings of regret or self-recrimination coming from you that shows to others. Sometimes we feel a sense of personal failure even though we did NOTHING wrong! YOU did nothing wrong.
Please make sure you know in your heart that you did the best you could under very tough circumstances. And now you are a strong woman who has rightfully moved on with your life!
What someone else does to us doesn’t make us less of a person. And that includes dropping out of law school. I know you know that in your head, but the fact that this answer is tough for you may show you haven’t quite finished with it. And I say GREAT!
Leaving the shame behind you
This is giving you one last chance to look it straight in the eye and finally kick it to the curb. You’re moving on to something better! Each day we move forward despite what happened, we build ourselves into stronger people than we ever could have been otherwise.
I just hope you know that law school is always there for you should you ever change your mind and want it again. What happened to you has nothing to do with law school. But it may have helped you realize that you actually didn’t want law school after all.
And if so, I say … congratulations! If you really love where you are, then you got to the right place anyway, using what happened to make you stronger. Good for you!
Drop law school from resume?
All that said, and assuming you are exactly where you want to be, why not just drop the Law School from your resume? The rule of thumb is that interviewers don’t need to know anything earlier than 10 years. And as long as you have your undergrad on the resume, you are fine.
Also, framing your resume to target (match) the job you’re applying for is standard practice. I certainly did it with my resume. Employers don’t need to know every single you ever did. And if you do get the job and have to fill out a form that asks about educational history, you list it all. No big deal.
And on the slim chance anyone ever asks about it at any point, even during your interview, that’s when you tell them more. Although you gave it your best, you realized it just wasn’t what you really wanted — and you are so glad because you LOVE what you’re doing now.
That’s all you need to say. Always keep it positive — and say it from your heart. And if you mean it, then there’s real strength in that statement. Anyway, once you’re hired, people really don’t care about these things.
I hope that helps a little. And please excuse me if I stepped where I shouldn’t. I just want to make sure you give yourself the best chance to move forward with your exciting new career!
~ Ronnie Ann
EXTRA: One more email from K.Z.:
Hi Ronnie Ann!
Thank you for your quick reply! You’ve been very gracious to offer your advice, and you’ve really helped me to articulate some of the feelings that I’ve had. I will certainly start practicing, because I think you’re right that something in my demeanor when I talk about it shows that maybe I haven’t completely left it behind emotionally. Thanks again for being so kind and helpful! Great blog, by the way. You’re doing a great service!
With warm regards,
Thank YOU, K.Z.! This means more to me than you can ever know. I’m impressed with how open and ready you are to receive feedback and put it into action. That says a lot about you. I wish you all the luck! Just bring your most positive self to the interview, and you’ll do just fine.
Oh … and thank you for your kind words about the blog. That means a lot to me. It’s done from my heart.
~ Ronnie Ann
[Post updated in 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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