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Here's the general question: how should I approach job interviews when experiencing physical health problems which negatively impact my ability to perform at an interview? What do I disclose or not disclose to a potential employer?

I'm concerned, first, about making a good impression when I'm very much not in top form. I'm also concerned about being way too personal with a potential employer because 1. that's awkward for everybody involved, and 2. because I don't know anything about US laws pertaining to employment discrimination and I don't want to put a potential employer in a legally awkward situation. (I'm in the USA, if it matters)

Here's what I think my options are:

  1. Say nothing, hope for the best (I've had very mixed results from this approach in the past)
  2. Say something vague about not being in peak performance and leave it at that (seems like a really bad option. Am I hungover or something? Am I just making excuses because I have no self confidence?)
  3. Give my interviewer a little context. I'm not in peak performance because... (this is where I'd worry about employment disclosure laws and/or good ol' TMI. Also, I don't want to appear to be making excuses, especially because my illness is not evident to an observer)
  4. Tell my recruiter or HR contact what's up and let them disseminate to my interviewers as appropriate. (This one isn't always an option because there's not always a recruiter contact)

Since the answer to this question could vary depending on what the particular health problem is (a cold? uncontrollable diarrhea? cancer?), and what kind of interview I'm doing, I'll provide a little personal context.

Edit: removed some specific details.

I'm interviewing for jobs where interviews involve solving problems on a whiteboard and necessitate a fair amount of cognitive clarity.

I have a non-fatal condition that causes constant pain. The treatment is surgical, with painkillers to ease the gap between diagnosis and surgery.

This is not forecasted to be a chronic condition long term, but I have had a few rounds with it in the short term, this just being the latest. Because I have dealt with this before, I can say with confidence that it doesn't significantly impact my ability to get work done on a day to day basis, but it can impact my ability to think under pressure at an interview and make a confident impression in front of a crowd, my two choices being that I interview in pain or interview on painkillers, both of which are bad choices.

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As an individual: If you can reasonably get through the interview, then don't mention it and get through the interview as best you can.

As someone who is hiring people: If you can't even get through a couple of hours for an interview without this affecting you, I would be seriously concerned about your ability to do your job day to day. Generally, I am very flexible when it comes to interviews, with time constraints, physical constraints, etc. However, if you can't find a single day in the next couple of weeks where you can come and be at your best for a couple hours, why would I believe that you could work a full time job? Sorry to be blunt, but I think it is a valid concern.

If this condition is as ongoing as you say it is, then I don't think full time work is right for you. You would be happier consulting or finding a company where remote work is allowed.

  • Indeed, with an issue as the OP describes, it's not just the interview that's at risk, it's the job itself too! – Cronax Apr 17 '15 at 7:31
  • While I would posit that ability to perform in the daily grind and ability to perform at an interview are extremely different things, (speaking from experience of having managed significant workloads with this condition in the past) I take your point about the perspective of the employer. Interviews are flawed in many ways, but it's kinda the only thing an employer can use to answer these important questions. Thank you for your perspective. – user34186 Apr 17 '15 at 13:04
  • @PeachyEngineering Yeah I agree interviews are definitely not great, but 99% of companies use them in the way you describe. I think it would help if you mentioned your past experience and how you were able to perform well with significant workloads. Good luck! – Bowen Apr 17 '15 at 13:49

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