No firm will listen to excuses, but if you have a genuine reason for poor A-level grades, exam results or a lack of work experience, you need to explain it to firms in a way that explains your background without seeming like an attempt to gain sympathy. Here's how.
Keep emotion out of it.
By their nature, the kinds of life events that count as "mitigating circumstances" are traumatic, difficult and emotional. Deaths in the family, illnesses, personal upheavals, relocations... candidates often find it difficult to explain these to firms factually without getting caught up in the emotions of the situation they're trying to describe.
Start by setting out in a sentence or two what the particular event was: "In 2012, while I was preparing for my A-level exams, my mother was diagnosed with cancer"; "I relocated from England to rural Canada after high school".
Then (again, simply and factually) explain the effect that event had on you: "As a result of this, my grades suffered - I took on substantial caring duties that took up time that I would have spent studying / the upheaval of the move and the differences in the education system meant that I did not gain the work experience I would have otherwise sought out.
Finally, spin something positive out of it. "However, since then I have had plenty of opportunity to concentrate on my studies and my more university grades reflect my true academic aptitude." "I have since worked to make up for my lack of work experience by volunteering at [name] once a week."
That is all the detail you need. Firms / HR departments can ask if they need more information.
If you find that poor grades for which you have a genuine mitigating circumstance are automatically disqualifying you from certain firms' recruitment processes, get in touch with those firms directly, explain your mitigating circumstances as above and ask if you can apply regardless. They'll usually let you.
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