in Careers Advice, CV Writing, Training Contracts, Pupillage and Work Experience

Mitigating Circumstances – do they ever exist and do you need to mention them on a CV or at a job interview?

No. Mitigating circumstances do not exist. Ever. Well, hardly ever.

“Mitigating circumstances” is probably one of the most irritating phrases ever to come out of university careers advice centres. What a fantastic excuse for rubbish grades. We have just had a CV in from someone using the term when they got a 2.1 from a good university and reasonable A level grades and it seems that just about everyone who does not get a first class degree and straight As at A level thinks it is a good idea to include it on the CV. Regardless of what nonsense careers advisers tell you, we don’t think it is a good idea. In fact we think it is a truly terrible idea. Read on.

We do not always see the reasons for ‘mitigating circumstances’ why but some of them are below:

  • My grandad died during my exams.
  • My dog was run over in a tragic car accident on the night of my final exam.
  • My parents split up during my mock A levels.
  • My horse suffered a terrible fall and broke his neck and had to be put down.
  • My brother died.
  • My mum died.
  • I broke my arm a week before finals and couldn’t write.
  • I was diagnosed with cancer and given 3 years to live.

You have probably read through this list and now think we are bunch of heartless bar stewards for suggesting that these are not reasons for lower than anticipated grades, but we are realists.

Think about it from the employers’ perspective. You are a solicitor due in court to handle a 3 week trial you have been preparing for over 6 months. The case is worth £1.5 million to the client and about £150,000 in costs to your boss. You phone the office at 9.15am on the morning of the trial to say:

“Sorry I can’t come into work today. My horse suffered a terrible fall, broke his neck and had to be put down.”

Or even worse you turn up to the trial, do a really bad job and then write to the client afterwards:

“Sorry I didn’t do very well and you lost. But I had mitigating circumstances – my horse suffered a terrible fall, broke his neck and had to be put down.”

Whilst I might be empathetic as a client to the plight of the horse, I would also be rather annoyed that my chance of winning a case had been affected by the tragedy. Mitigating circumstances are always direct examples of personal life infringing on your professional work and it should not really happen.

Some mitigating circumstances are truly worthy of mentioning in theory, but in practice do you want to be remembered as:

a) The candidate who suffered from cancer, whose grandad died on the night of an exam and who lost their mother at a tender age.


b) The candidate with a consistent academic background, good extra-curricular achievements, strong communication skills and a contender for the job.

I know which one I would go for.

Stop making excuses for academic grades and concentrate on what you do have. If you got a 2.2 was it really because something happened or was it because you didn’t work hard enough or understand concepts sufficiently? If you have bad A levels was it really because your dad left your mum or was it because you were too busy out partying in the middle of the week rather than revising? We all have similar journeys and some people are lucky with these; others are not so lucky. S**t happens. Move on and concentrate on positives.

Jonathan Fagan is managing director and a legal recruitment consultant for Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. You can contact him at


Jonathan Fagan

Jonathan Fagan LLM FIRP is Managing Director of Ten-Percent Legal Recruitment. He has been recruiting solicitors and legal support staff for law firms and in house legal departments for over 20 years and handles roles from junior fee earners through to partners and law firm sales/purchases. A non-practising solicitor on the Roll since 2000, he is also the author of a number of legal career books, which are available at You can contact Jonathan at