how do I explain depression to prospective employers?

A reader writes:

I have bipolar depression, and I am starting to interview for jobs. I recently graduated college but my grades suffered toward the end of my education because of bipolar depression. It affected me for one year before I was diagnosed. I am now starting the job interview process and wondering what to say about my GPA dip, and semester withdrawal. My early college career went very well, but suffered towards the end. My overall GPA suffered, but my major GPA remained at 3.00. It was the bipolar depression that made my grades suffer, not excessive partying.

How do I talk about this issue with future employers, or do I not bring it up? I am on medication now and have been doing much better. I received A’s and B’s my last semester after starting the medication. What do I say or do in an interview?

Treat it like any other health issue, and explain that you had health issues during that time that affected your grades, but that the problem was resolved and your grades returned to their previously high levels.

That said, many, many, many employers won’t care about your GPA anyway and it’ll never even come up. So don’t stress too much about this. In fact, you could even just leave it off your resume; if someone cares about it, they’ll ask, and you can give them this context simultaneously. Good luck!

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I have never had an employer ask me for my GPA. I too suffer from depression and I have never brought it up with employers during the hiring process. There have been a couple of occassions when it's been really bad while going off or switching medication, and what I decided to do then depended on my relationship with my boss. I explained the situation to one boss, another I just had "the flu." But don't worry about that right now–you're on your medication, and you'll cross that bridge when and if you come to it. While depression is an illness like anything else, you're right that unfortunately for some that are ignorant it has a negative stigma. Again, none of this is their business right now.

  2. Barbra Sundquist*

    Good answer. Depression is a health problem like any other. We don't have to get into details. After all if it was a physical problem that is now being managed, you'd just say "health problems" without going into further details.

  3. Inside the Philosophy Factory*

    There are certain kinds of jobs that ask for transcripts. IF and only IF they request a transcript, then you should mention a health challenge and note that your major GPA is still good and that your grades rebounded in the end.

    Otherwise, it's none of their business — any more than my breast cancer two years ago was their business.

  4. Brian*

    I know of one employer in town that requires a GPA over 3.6 or they won't even look at your resume, but they also primariily hire new grads. There are a few others that ask for your GPA on their application, but it isn't clear that they require it. I had one employer who wanted an official copy of my transcript AFTER I'd been hired.

  5. mr_buggy*

    I think GPA requirements vary depending on what type of job you are applying for. In my company for most engineering jobs we require all new grads to have at least a 3.5 If they didn't report their GPA we would just assume it was bad and trash the resume.

  6. Anonymous*

    Ha! I recently got asked not just for a transcript/GPA, but for _syllabus and course details_ from when I was in school…

    17 years ago!!!!!!


  7. Anonymous*

    Because of high unemployment and the suffering economy employers can afford to be ultra-picky with the multitude of resumes they are receiving for job postings nowadays (Masters degree and 10 years experience for a part-time assistant $10/hour job anyone?). If you dont giving them more than all the information they are asking for or expecting theyll simply move on to the next resume in the pile, there are plenty of overqualified individuals out there looking.

    I would mention it as AAM suggests because its likely if you dont youll just get tossed into the reject pile like so many others. Just dont go into too many details. Employers usually dont want to know all the gory details that employees or candidates offer up voluntarily.

  8. Anonymous*

    You definitely should mention it; mental illnesses are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act, making you a member of a protected class. They cannot discriminate against you due to this disability, and indeed, may have affirmative action quotas for which you qualify. Check with NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) for hiring and workplace guidelines that affect people like you.

  9. De Minimis*

    Respectfully disagree with the advice to disclose it–if they don't know about it, they can't use it against you. I also agree that it is none of their business. Discrimination against applicants is extremely hard to prove, they could always just say there was some other candidate they liked more. It sounds like you were able to bring the GPA back up, so I don't think it should be an issue anyway.

  10. Corinne*

    I wouldn't bring it up at all, especially if ur GPA is over a 3.0! I caught Mono my junior year, and had to withdraw from 2 classes and had sub-par grades in the remaining courses that semester. There are so many things that can happen to make one's GPA go down -illness, grievance of a close one, etc.

    When I did graduate and started looking for a job, most employers didn't care about GPA – why? Because it is subjective to the level of courses you took, their level of difficulty, and the overall Tier of the school. Where I went to college, a 3.0 in Business was very good, whereas a 3.0 in communications was a joke. Also, some colleges are known as being "better" than others – so a 2.5 from Boston University looks a lot better than a 2.5 from a lower tiered college.

  11. Anonymous*

    I've never had an employer ask me about my GPA, let alone actually ask to see my transcript or analyze it!

    If you are actually asked I think AAM has a good answer–just tell them you had a health issue you were dealing with. Most employers will steer well clear of that issue, they know they could get themselves into trouble if they probe any further.

  12. Anonymous*

    GPA does matter indeed matter when you are new graduate with zero experience.

    I was emailed and flatly told by the vice-president of a boutique bank (who I had directly sent my resume to) that my application for an internship was rejected because of my 3.0 GPA. He specifically stated that many of his interns have 3.8 or higher, though this fact was never disclosed to me beforehand.

  13. De Minimis*

    In my field, GPA is used as a quick way to sift through resumes. It can get you an interview, but it won't get you a job. I imagine it's that way most places. 3.0 was our cutoff point, and I think someone who was right at 3.0 would be considered questionable if they had zero experience.

    We would look at GPAs below 3.0 if there was a good reason, like having to support family members, working full-time, etc. Even then, it couldn't be much below 3.0, and I think depression would probably have scared off recruiters at my former job.

  14. Anonymous*

    I wouldn't volunteer your medical condition under any circumstances. A vague explanation of health issues that have since been resolved is what you should go with if someone inquires about your grades. That said, a 3.0 is still a strong GPA so I doubt someone would ask for more of an explanation or a transcript.

    The reason I suggest you remain purposefully vague regarding your diagnosis is twofold. Unfortunately, there's a really tough stigma attached to bipolar depression. There's no need to potentially be judged unfairly by a preconceived notion a recruiter or manager might have about your diagnosis.

    Secondly, every single time a candidate volunteers health information, very personal information (spousal/children info) or something else that's not work-related in an interview, I cringe. It shows bad judgement, oversharing and makes me vaguely uncomfortable. Why? Because I didn't ask for it and now I know more than I wanted. In the end, it leaves the company vulnerable (because what if we didn't hire the 50 year old gay Hispanic mother of four with asthma)? It's a dramatic example, yes, but in reality, could be an issue (even if we didn't hire her because she was a poor communicator or did not have a lot of experience in X).

    Stick to your skillset and what you can bring to the job and if someone asks for your specific health issue, this probably isn't a great company or well-trained recruiter. Run.

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