People who live with chronic illness often tell me that they are terrified of interviewing for a job. I’ve heard more stories than I can count about horrible experiences that proved to someone that illness makes becoming employed impossible.
More often than not, the “nightmare” they’re remembering could have been avoided with some careful preparation and, more importantly, can be used as a teaching moment.
3 Interview Preparation Tips
Here are some ideas for preparing yourself for what can come up in the first interview and training yourself to use each interview as an opportunity to improve your skills.
1. Before you apply for a job, make sure you have a firm understanding of why it sounds like a good fit and why you want it.
When you make the connection in your own mind between what you offer to what they need, you will respond to questions with confidence.
Can you identify your strengths? Do you know how disabling symptoms specifically impact your work and what you need to work around this?
Just as importantly, you might want this job because it would improve your skills and be a good career move, even if it might be difficult.
On the other hand, you might want this job because it would allow you to work at a pace you can manage even if it would be a career “slide”.
2. Job interviews are typically a series of events, rather than a one shot event.
Your goal in the first interview is to get to the next step.
Complete honesty is essential but that doesn’t mean you telling your life story (such as you’ve been married three times) or disclosing chronic illness.
An easy guideline to follow is: say as much as you need to but no more than you have to.
Here are some examples –
- If asked why you left your last job, which is pretty common, the first interview is never the time to describe the gory details.
- Nor should you say anything negative about your last employer because it might backfire. Even if you left feeling angry at what you thought was poor treatment surrounding your illness, you might offer something vague — but true — such as, “It was no longer a good fit”.
If you know from the job description that you need specific accommodations to do this job, you might wait until you’ve done a good job showcasing your strengths before asking specifics that might make them wary.
3. View an interview as an opportunity to learn about the job and the organization.
This should be a conversation, a two-way street, in which you’re both trying to learn whether this is the right fit.
In addition, asking questions in an interview is a sign to the interviewer that you have prepared, have listened, and have thought about both the job and the organization. Demonstrate your intelligence, and learn if the organization will be a place you think you can work happily and successfully.
Note – the first interview is not the time to ask about the salary, benefits, and vacation time. Save those questions for later in the process, when you have received a job offer, for example. Asking them in the first interview may make you look desperate and not really interested in the job.
Keep trying. Interviewing takes time and you’re developing your skills as you do it, particularly around how to handle the issues that come up while living with a CI.
About the author…
Rosalind Joffe is a recognized national expert on chronic illness in the workplace. As a leading career coach specializing in working with the chronically ill, she has been quoted in numerous national publications and media. Rosalind holds a Masters in Education, is a certified Mediator, and has completed the Corporate Coach University certificate program. Rosalind’s website ciCoach.com (Chronic Illness Career Coach) offers advice and resources for people working with chronic illnesses. She also publishes a widely read blog, WorkingWithChronicIllness. In addition, find more of Rosalind’s insights at Facebook.com/cicoach and on Twitter @WorkWithIllness.
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