Dealing with Health Issues in a Job Interview and the Power of Networking

A few years ago I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on interviewing which was focused on veterans and the disabled. (And, no, I was not crazy about the juxtaposition but I understood the intent of the organizers and let it go.) One of the attendees, I believe he was a veteran, asked the question, When should I tell an employer about my disability?

The panel moderator asked one of the other panelists to respond. She said, “As long as it has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, say nothing.”

This is not an uncommon response. A few months ago I spoke to a group of students. One asked the same question. Before I had a chance to respond, their teacher said, “After they offer you the job.”

Terrible advice! Almost as bad as the response of my former fellow panelist.

What’s the problem?

You have a disability. It has nothing to do with your ability to do the job, so you don’t tell the employer. That may be fine. But what if the employer looks at it differently? What if the employer is thinking safety? They are located on the 20th floor of a 30-story building. What if there is a fire? You’ll still get the job only now the employer will know to report the issue to the building’s Safety/Security Director before there is a crisis. But there is now the little matter of the boss now thinking to herself, What else didn’t he tell me?

You have a disability and it is related to the job. You follow the teacher’s instructions and after you are offered the job you say, “Oh, by the way. I have this disability which means I will need this ‘reasonable accommodation’.” Well, the employer doesn’t agree with your definition of “reasonable” and, moreover, she does not like the fact that you waited until the last minute to tell her. (In fact, you literally wait until the first minute to tell her!) It looks like you are preparing for a lawsuit, not a new job! So she rescinds the offer because of the “accommodation” issue but, more importantly, because she does not trust you. What else are you hiding? Employers do not like to be surprised.

So my advice was always to do the following. We’ll use a veteran as an example.

The veteran is ushered into a conference room for the initial interview. After the pleasantries are over he says,

“Before we get started let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I know you can’t ask, but we all know you are thinking about it. So let me tell you upfront, I have no disability.”

The unspoken issue is no longer an issue and the employer likes the candidate because he was honest and showed that he understood her concerns.

Second scenario:

“Before we get started let’s address the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I know you can’t ask, but we all know you are thinking about it. So let me tell you upfront that I have X. That means Y. From the perspective of the job, it should have no impact but I will need the following ‘reasonable accommodation’.”

The employer is now happy. She has a candidate who understands her concerns and took the initiative to raise a delicate issue. And he is honest and forthright. He explained it. She understands it. It is not a last-minute surprise. She agrees with his definition of “reasonable.” The issue is no longer an issue. Now let’s start the interview!

How do I know that I am right and you deal with health issues up front?

Simple: It has worked for me!

I had a health issue at the end of May. I spent two days in the hospital and five in a dump of a nursing home (out of which I checked myself). One of the first letters that I opened when I got home informed me that my doctor had closed his practice and had transferred it to a new group of physicians. So in addition to having to deal with Social Services, I needed to find a new primary care physician, who referred me to two specialists and then I had to deal with tests, etc., all while trying to complete the paperwork for Social Services, a document which is a foot in height!

And, while doing all of this, I had to cope with the stress of an unknown health issue and financial worries. Meaning very little sleep and very little appetite. (If you want to know how to lose 25 pounds in a month, give me a call. On second thought, don’t!)

It took me a couple of weeks to get over what I had gone through and get control of what I was going through. My concentration was shot. I could not read and I could not write. I was obsessing over my situation. Never a good thing.

So how did I turn things around? I took my own advice!

First, networking. I reached out to everyone for whom I had an email address and with whom I had worked, primarily those individuals who knew me from my days with the local Chamber of Commerce. There were a lot of people I had helped with free advice or introductions. I had the network and I was going to use it.

So I wrote to everyone. Basically, they all got the same email. It began by my briefly explaining what had happened and that I was now medically fine and could return to work. I also told them that because of the bills that were pouring in (don’t ask!) I could no longer afford to work on a commission basis and would even consider a “job job.” I highlighted for them my skill set, attached a copy of my resume and told them that they could share it, and the email, at their discretion.

The following day Outlook started to hum and the phone started to ring. While a good percentage never responded, those that did first were concerned about my health and then they had specific employment-related questions. The end result:

One paid me a retainer, and has yet to give me the search! Another introduced me to his HR director who offered me a consulting gig to help her screen candidates. Others introduced me to their friends via email. I have had half a dozen phone interviews with friends of friends. In each case, I begin by reassuring them that I am fit to work. No restrictions. No “accommodations” of any type required. And in each case, without exception, they have all thanked me for being honest and upfront with them and broaching the subject myself.

Bottom line, by being honest and upfront, I have uncovered jobs that are not being advertised and have had one job created just for me. I turned being sick from a negative into a positive. If I can do it, why can’t you?

(Another advantage is that I now have a new appreciation for what some of my long-term unemployed career counseling clients were going through!)


Bruce Hurwitz is an executive recruiter and career counselor. (Don’t miss out on his discounted Summer Career Counseling Special!) He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that!

Bruce is a recognized authority on job search and career issues, having been quoted in over 700 articles, appearing in some 500 publications, across the United States, and in more than 30 foreign countries. His posts on LinkedIn have been read over 350,000 times and have garnered national and international media attention, including television appearances on Fox Business Network and Headline News (CNN).

An advocate for the protection of job seekers, visit the homepage of his website,, to read about questionable offerings of so-called job search assistance companies and to learn about his upcoming speaking engagements. Follow him on Twitter at @HurwitzStaffing.

Lastly, he can help you make the most out of LinkedIn by doing the mundane tasks so that you are free to do what only you can, grow a real-world network of potential employers, clients or customers, as the case may be, thus allowing you to achieve whatever it was that brought you to LinkedIn in the first place.