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Tips For Acing A Job Interview

Plan A Response To Questions About Your Health

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2/21

Thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and similar state laws, you cannot be asked about your current or past health. As part of this prohibition, you cannot even be asked how much time off you took under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and similar laws, or even how much sick time you used before.

If an employer does ask a question about your health:

  • You have to say something or an employer will be suspicious that you are hiding something.
  • Don't lie about your health (or about anything.) If you're hired after lying, you can be fired for lying.
  • Be confident in your response. The easiest way to do this is to practice. It works. Repeat your answer over and over in front of a mirror as you look directly into your eyes. Have a friend or family member ask you about your health. Give the answer. Keep practicing until you feel comfortable.
  • Avoid being defensive in your response.

If you are interviewing for a job with a new employer and don't want to disclose your health condition

Consider which of the following approaches works best for you:

  • Don't answer the question directly. For example, if an employer asks "Have you ever had cancer?" consider a response like: "We both know you aren't allowed to ask me that question, but I do not have any health condition which would prevent me from performing the job we're talking about."
  • Throw the question back at the interviewer with a question such as: "Is there something I should be concerned about?" or "Is that relevant to the job?" or "Why do you ask?" Try to keep the conversation good natured and friendly. The goal with these types of responses is to allow you to toss the question back at the interviewer to find out what they are really looking for. For example, the general health question may really be about your ability to do some specific task, such as lift 100 pounds.
  • Minimize your health history and include other reasons for being off work. Explain what makes your current situation different from the one during which you could not work. For example. "I had some medical issues to deal with and I got great care, so I'm ready to go back to work now. I feel great. I jog four times a week and I ride my bike 30 miles a week." Or "I was dealing with some physical problems, and caring for a family member during their last months, so I took some time off."
  • As soon as you can, end the topic and go on to the subject of the meeting: why you are able to do the job you are interviewing for, what a good job you can do, and why you want to do it.
  • Again, whatever you do, do not lie. Instead focus on your ability to perform the requirements of the job for which you are applying.
  • When you leave the interview, make notes about what happened in case you need to file a discrimination claim.

To learn more, see Work: Legal Protections At Work

If you are returning to an employer who is already familiar with your condition, or if you choose to disclose your health condition in the interview

  • Focus on your ability to perform the requirements of the job for which you are applying. Answer questions succintly (as briefly as possible) and immediately shift the focus to your skill set.
  • You may wish to have a letter from your doctor, prepared in advance, which indicates your physical ability to perform the job. The letter could also include statistics about the work ability of other people with the same diagnosis. The goal here is to educate the employer about your ability to perform the job and to eliminate any stereotypes that the employer may have about individuals with your condition.
  • An employer may not ask an applicant who has voluntarily disclosed that s/he has a health condition or history any questions about the condition, its treatment, or its prognosis. However, if you do voluntarily disclose that you have a health condition or history, and the employer reasonably believes that an accommodation will be required to perform the job, an employer may ask whether you will need an accommodation and, if so, what type. (To learn more, see Accommodations).
  • The employer also must keep any information you disclose about your medical information confidential.

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