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I'm facing the prospect of my first serious job interview. I've graduated recently and am looking for a job in engineering. While I'm not too worried about the interview questions, there's one minor thing of concern to me - I have an ailment called nystagmus which basically means my eyes move constantly without me feeling it.

Now, all the sources say that eye-contact is important during the interview, but, for obvious reasons, I won't be able to hold it for more than a few seconds. How should I handle this situation? Would it be better to try and maintain eye-contact (which could be a challenge), or should I not care too much about it and hope the quality of my answers is enough?

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    As @HLGEM covers you should be upfront about it. If a manager is going to be unreasonable and hold this against you better to just get it out of the way so minimal time is wasted. (Not to mention this would indicate a crappy manager so you're doing yourself a favor by not taking that job) A good manager will typically ask a question or two to understand how this condition will affect your work and any accommodations necessary to felicitate it, then proceed with the interview exactly as they would for any other applicant. – RualStorge Feb 23 '15 at 20:51
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I have a lesser, similar problem: my eyes don't track together, so one of them tends to "wander off" on its own and it looks like I'm not looking at the person I'm speaking with. Over time I've learned to fake eye contact; if I actually look directly at somebody it looks like I'm not.

I've taken two further approaches to this problem:

  1. I participate actively in the interview. I sit up straight, have done my homework in advance, ask questions, and don't give dead-end answers. On that last: if they ask "Have you worked with such-and-such technology?", don't say "yes" -- say "yes, with (specific flavor) at (company), to do (task)". Don't over-fill; maybe they only wanted a yes/no and don't want you to talk for the next two minutes. But say something that offers a clear invitation -- you're prepared to discuss this more. The combination of appropriate posture and showing genuine engagement in the interview can make up for a lack of eye contact.

  2. If I'm getting a feeling that people are perceiving me as disinterested because of the eye-contact problem, I'll say something to one interviewer, ideally a prospective peer or the hiring manager. I do this during the wrap-up at the end of an interview segment, after I've asked some questions. I say something like this: "You may have noticed that I have trouble maintaining eye contact. That has nothing to do with you or my interest in this position; it's a minor medical problem. I am very interested in working with you." Telling one person is sufficient; the interviewers are going to talk with each other afterwards, most likely.

With what you've described you don't have the "fake it" option that I do, but the others should help you.

As best I can tell, this has been working fine for me. At companies where I knew somebody and got informal feedback nobody's raised it, and I haven't had any "huh, wonder why they didn't pick me when there's obviously a good match" moments after in-person interviews. Mostly I do #1; last time I also did #2 I got an offer anyway.

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    I'm glad to know it all worked fine for you. It's hard to overcome that kind of dificulty. Specially when we dont have control of it. But it's great to know that you learned a few tricks to overcome it. I hope that the O.P. also finds the trick that suits the most for him. – Ismael Miguel Feb 24 '15 at 15:07
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Personally, I would bring it up directly. Let them know that the reason your eyes are wandering is medical, that the condition has no treatment but is not life-threatening or contagious or likely to cause you to need any special workplace accommodation.

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    There may even have been a section "Do you have any disabilities we may need to know about to make the interview go better?" on the application form. In the UK, employers have to make reasonable adjustments for permanent disabilities -- so such a condition (which requires at most only an attitude adjustment on their part) should pose no issue. Bringing it up could be as simple as "I can't remember if I mentioned my nystagmus; I may not have done as it causes me no issues, but it's the reason my eyes behave oddly." – Andrew Leach Feb 24 '15 at 15:04
  • @AndrewLeach Here, in Portugal, I've never seen such thing. I mean, I've hunted for a job and all the applications I've filled, none mentioned any disability. Or that, or my memory is playing me tricks. Although I like this answer, I also like Monica's answer. I believe that both, together, will show that you are doing your best to show your interest. Exposing the situation as HLGEM described is a good idea, in my opinion. But, if the disconfort rules above the courage to speak, Monica's answer is the last resort (and a good dose of praying, for those who believe). – Ismael Miguel Feb 24 '15 at 15:14

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