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Tricky situation - Dropped out of a graduate that wasn't a fit

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New answer on May 31, 2024
10 Answers
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Anonymous A asked on May 15, 2024

Hi all,
I am in a bit of a tricky situation. A year ago I dropped out of the pre-PhD program I was in because unfortunately the program wasn't a good fit. 

I have decided to pursue industry jobs and am currently trying to apply for consulting jobs. I have a few questions:

Is there a way to indicate this on my resume to avoid raising red flags as much as possible? Would this be an automatic red flag? For now, I have just kept it as ongoing to show that I haven't graduated.

I had a clear reason why I didn't continue the program, I'm wondering if there is anything tips that might be helpful to do throughout recruiting to avoid the negative stigma that comes with being dropped out. 

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Francesco
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Content Creator
replied on May 16, 2024
#1 Coach for Sessions (4.500+) | 1.500+ 5-Star Reviews | Proven Success (➡ interviewoffers.com) | Ex BCG | 10Y+ Coaching

Hi there,

Q: Is there a way to indicate this on my resume to avoid raising red flags as much as possible? Would this be an automatic red flag?

I would consider the following options:

  • If the period of enrollment is very short (a few months) and thus doesn't create a relevant gap, you might omit it (I guess that’s not the case given your question though)
  • If you got a degree for the period you were enrolled, you could just indicate that degree
  • If none applies, you could report “Pre-PhD program” for the period you were enrolled (assuming that was indeed the correct reference for that period)

Using the above, I don't think this will lead to any automatic red flags.

Good luck!

Francesco

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Hagen
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replied on May 16, 2024
#1 Bain coach | >95% success rate | interviewer for 8+ years | mentor and coach for 7+ years

Hi there,

First of all, I am sorry to hear about your negative experience with the program!

I would be happy to share my thoughts on your situation:

  • First of all, when addressing the issue of dropping out on your resume, I would advise you to frame it as a strategic decision toward a career more aligned with your skills and interests (which seems to be the case). Instead of listing the program as ongoing, update it to reflect the actual timeline but highlight the transferable skills or relevant coursework you completed.
  • Moreover, prepare a concise and honest explanation for the interviewers that reflects your proactive choice to pursue a career better suited for you. This turns the conversation from a potential negative into a positive display of self-awareness and alignment with your career goals.

If you would like a more detailed discussion on how to best prepare your application files, please don't hesitate to contact me directly.

Best,

Hagen

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Sidi
Expert
replied on May 16, 2024
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi,

It’s important to be transparent yet strategic. Instead of listing the program as ongoing, which can be misleading and may lead to more questions, you could mention the dates you attended the pre-PhD program, label it as “Graduate Studies in [Field of Study]”, and highlight what you accomplished during that time. This way, you acknowledge your academic journey without implying you completed the program. 

 

It’s not necessarily an automatic red flag to have dropped out of a program; the key is in how you frame your experience. Focus on the skills and knowledge you gained during your time in the program that are transferable to consulting, such as analytical skills, ability to work with complex information, project management, etc.

 

In interviews, be prepared to discuss why you left the program concisely and positively, focusing on what you learned from the experience and how it directed you towards a more suitable career path in industry.

 

Cheers, Sidi

_______________________

Dr. Sidi Koné 

(🚀 Ex BCG & McKinsey Sr. Project Manager, now helping high potential individuals join the world's top Strategy Consulting firms (McKinsey | BCG | Bain))

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Cristian
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Content Creator
replied on May 16, 2024
#1 rated MBB & McKinsey Coach

It all comes down to the story that you tell. 

If you are honest and clear about your motivations for dropping out of the program, nobody with common sense would hold that against you. 

If anything, it should show that you have a growth mindset and are in control of your career. 

This is rather how I would see it. 

If you're in the recruitment process now, you might find this guide helpful:

Expert Guide: Build A Winning Application Strategy

Best,
Cristian

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Agrim
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Content Creator
replied on May 21, 2024
BCG Dubai Project Leader | Learn to think like a Consultant | Free personalised prep plan | 6+ years in Consulting

Since you enrolled in the program yourself - then it should be a good idea to mention it.

Since you left the program yourself - then it should be a good idea to call it that it has ended.

Since no actual certification came out of the limited duration you were there - then a good way would be to show that it was an exploratory exercise.

If the whole duration was quite small - then you can even consider dropping it - if the gap that is left, is not really a big enough gap to be called a gap.

Since the entire exploratory exercise was your own doing - the only stigma it will have is what you will associate to it.

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Pedro
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updated an answer on May 19, 2024
Bain | Roland Berger | EY-Parthenon | Mentoring Approach | 30% off first 10 sessions in May| Market Sizing | DARDEN MBA

Dropping out of an advanced degree - that you considered not to be a good fit - is not a red flag. At all.

To be honest, consulting firms are not expecting candidates / employees to have PhDs, and as such, don't see a reason why this would be a negative.

It's up to you how to frame it, we don't have much information here. Think about what is positive… you gained experience in a certain field, for example; or simply, you decided to change to a different path.

Consulting firms hire people with medical or philosophy degrees. They changed their minds and decided to pursue business instead. It's fine. And it is fine in the cases they didn't finish their degree and decided to start over in a different field.

(edited)

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Dennis
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Content Creator
replied on May 16, 2024
Ex-Roland Berger|Project Manager and Recruiter|7+ years of consulting experience in USA and Europe

Hi there,

maybe you can package your pre-PhD program as some form of research assistant position depending on how long you have done it and what the content of your work was. 

If it was very short, you might leave it out. If it was semi-short, you could say that you did some academic work to see if a PhD was the right fit for you going forward but you decided against it. When asked about it, don't talk about all the “negative” things about the program that bothered you but talk about the positive things about the industry or consulting job you are applying to that you realized you would have missed had you pursued a PhD.

There is no shame in mid-course corrections as long as it doesn't become a pattern that makes you look like a job hopper.

Best

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Yousef
Expert
replied on May 16, 2024
I make it easy for you to master case interviews! (ex-McKinsey |Stanford University | Imperial College London | ex-P&G)

Hi there,

Good on you for realising what was not aligned early on. That level of self-awareness is key in an industry like consulting 😊


If possible, list the pre-PhD on your CV but more importantly, focus on acquiring relevant industry experience now to make you noticeable by consulting recruiters. 

If you need help crafting the perfect consulting CV, please reach out.

Yousef

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Florian
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replied on May 16, 2024
1300 5-star reviews across platforms | 500+ offers | Highest-rated case book on Amazon | Uni lecturer in US, Asia, EU

Hi there,

Not continuing a certain path is never a red flag if

  • you were able to pick something up right afterward
  • you can explain it well during the interview

Discontinuing a certain type of education is no different than switching jobs after a few months.

All the best,

Florian

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Alberto
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Content Creator
replied on May 31, 2024
Ex-McKinsey Associate Partner | +15 years in consulting | +200 McKinsey 1st & 2nd round interviews

Everything is storytelling :)

You thought twice about your career aspirations, realized you were not in the right path and take action immediately. This sounds more inspiring to me than spending 3-4 years doing something that doesn't put you where you want to be.

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Francesco gave the best answer

Francesco

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