Uncomfortable topics can come up in an interview; knowing how to respond to them helps you to manage the interview with finesse. If the interviewer asks you questions that you think are illegal or inappropriate, you can politely tell them that. For example, it is illegal (in many jurisdictions) to ask people about their ethnic background, sick time usage, or religion.
Most interviewers have good intentions and just want to know about the kind of work you do and whether you will fit into the organization. Someone who is inexperienced or who simply dismisses the law could also interview you. You will have to decide how far you want to go in an answer, depending on your own comfort level. You’ll also have to decide what to say in order to help with the flow of conversation.
For example, if you know that the organization operates with a rotating shift schedule that includes Sunday morning, and you normally attend church at that time, you could mention your situation along with a solution. Here are two examples.
- “I am happy to work whatever shifts you offer. I normally attend church on Sunday, so I would prefer not to work at that time, but I’d be happy to work Friday evenings if that’s a time that people normally want to have off, or at another time.”
- “I normally attend services on Saturday evening, and I can appreciate that many people want that time off. Would it be possible to alternate shifts, or to work two Saturday evenings and have two off a month so that I can still worship with my congregation? In return, I’d be happy to work a Sunday shift when I know that other people are attending church.”
Perhaps you have a physical need that the employer is focusing on. Focus on being a problem solver instead of just stating what you want; otherwise, you may come across as having a bad attitude or being a troublemaker. You might say something like: “I know that I am able to do the work that you have described and, in fact, I am excited about the opportunity to work here. I do have a prosthetic leg and that makes standing for long periods or going up and down stairs quickly a challenge, but I am fine as long as I have a stool nearby.”
Usually, when you are up front and communicate your needs, an employer is happy to accommodate you. If he or she is unable to make allowances for your needs, ask for an explanation of why not so that you can work on a solution together. Going back to the example above, sometimes a stool might seem like a hazard (other people may trip on it), but it’s not really the problem; the employer may not be used to working with people who know what they need, or who have special needs in the workplace.
Be confident in yourself. If you believe that you can honestly do the job, the employer will benefit from having you, just as you benefit by being there. Be aware of how employers might ask you about your ability to do a particular job. For example, an interviewer might ask if you have a disability that could affect your ability to do the job. The question is often phrased like this: “Is there anything that would prevent you from performing the duties of this job exactly as I have described them to you?” This question is allowed because the employer is asking it in terms of your ability to do the job.
The following are examples of what is not allowed:
- How many sick days do you take a year?
- Have you ever had a long term or workers’ compensation claim?
- Do you have a disability?
- Do you have young children at home?
- What religion are you?
- What is your ethnic background or country of origin?
The question behind these questions is also, “Are you capable of performing the duties of this job?” That’s the information a prospective employer needs to know. Be aware that you might be asked questions like those above and plan for how you will answer them.
One way to avoid awkward questions is for you to be up front with any issues. Don’t leave all the responsibility with the employer. For example, if you prefer not to work rotating shifts or to relocate, there is no point accepting a job where you are expected to do those things. Don’t expect that an employer will not add you to a shift rotation just because you do not like working a particular shift. There are probably plenty of other staff who don’t like working all shifts, but they like their jobs for other reasons and are willing to make a trade off. Chances are that you won’t be able to work your way into your most desired hours on your first day.
Approach the labor market with a good understanding of whether your type of work is a shift position or not, and be honest with yourself about the nature of the job market, where more and more positions involve shift work.
Be frank about areas of your resume or portfolio where the employer might have questions. For example, gaps in your work history may be an issue. Questions about your appearance or demeanor (such as tattoos and piercings) may also come up. Being open to a potential employer’s questions will help them to see you as a person of interest rather than as a potential liability or troublemaker before you even begin sharing your information.
A candidate’s comfort level with disclosing helps an employer to make a decision about who to hire. Some things, however, bear careful consideration. If you have a medical condition that is well managed and will not affect your ability to do the job, or you have a medical condition that does not require some kind of accommodation, you do not have to disclose it.
This is a particularly sensitive area when we think about mental health issues. Many people live productive lives and work with conditions like depression, anxiety, obsessive‑compulsive disorders, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which they have learned to manage.
If the condition does not affect your ability to do your job, you do not have to disclose it to an employer. In fact, we find that very few employers understand how they can support employees who have mental health or chronic health conditions, so when candidates disclose these issues, the employer may not consider them any further. If you are not sure how to handle a disclosure about a health issue, we strongly recommend that you work on this with a career development professional.