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I'm a woman in my 30s and about 80 pounds overweight. I gained weight because of a drug I took to fight a life-threatening illness. I've recovered but need to remain on the drug, and so I've been told it's not possible for me to lose weight.

I'm now embarking on a job search for the first time since this happened, and I'm worried because I know fat people are less likely to get hired. I understand people may assume I lack self-discipline or have other negative qualities. I'm pretty sure no one interviewing me would ever tell me this, so I'm considering bringing it up myself and being explicit.

How are interviewers likely to react if I bring it up? Is any specific timing or language better if I do bring it up?

I'm a technical professional; the roles I'm applying for don't have physical requirements.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Jane S
    Aug 5 '16 at 4:13
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I wouldn't bring it up.

To the extent that interviewers are biased against heavier people, it's generally going to be subconscious, subtle, and statistical. Very few people are going to be consciously and intentionally discriminating against heavy folks. And while statistically it's likely to have an impact, it's going to be a small one-- you're almost certainly going to lose out on more jobs than you land and the vast majority of rejections are going to be for other reasons. Some small fraction of rejections will be the result of weight discrimination but it's likely that the interviewer didn't even realize they were discriminating at the time.

If you tried to bring it up, you'd probably only succeed in leading the interviewer to feel that you're preemptively accusing them of discrimination. Plus you'd be bringing up bunch of information that the interviewer really doesn't want to have (a health condition that from your description seems to have no impact on your ability to do the job, a medication regime, side-effects, etc.). That would likely be far more concerning to an interviewer than a subtle weight bias.

By all means feel free to emphasize things like self-discipline in answering questions if you're concerned that someone might be judging you for your appearance. If you're confident in your abilities and comfortable in your own skin, that's likely to be as much as you can do. Do whatever it takes for you to feel confident and comfortable. As @bethlakshmi points out, that likely means dressing well which may involve buying some new clothes that present the current you in a more flattering light.

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    The only thing I'd add to this post - do everything you can to dress/present yourself in a way that makes you feel self-confident and appropriate for the role. It's true that there are subconscious factors influencing decision making - so do what you can to dress in a well-put-together, flattering way that shows that you care about your appearance and how your appearance connects to the job you're interviewing for. Aug 3 '16 at 14:58
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    Speaking as an engineer of prodigious weight myself, I'd have to echo both the content of this post and @bethlakshmi 's comment. A smiling, friendly and confident candidate that is well-groomed, clean, and in a properly fitted suit (or flattering clothes of the appropriate type) is going to have the best chance of succeeding regardless of their weight. Beyond this, the only concern most employers will have with your weight is with regards to your health; this makes being well-groomed, well-dressed, and clean doubly important. Aug 4 '16 at 1:15
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    "That would likely be far more concerning to an interviewer" I'd put it even more strongly: a significant number of interviewers will instantly reject a candidate who discloses protected info like this to avoid such accusations of discrimination when candidates are filtered out at later stages of the process.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 4 '16 at 10:53
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    Good answer. Long story short, stay confident and address it only if THEY bring it up.
    – Omegacron
    Aug 4 '16 at 20:08
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    " And while statistically it's likely to have an impact, it's going to be a small one" Do you have evidence for this?
    – user42272
    Aug 4 '16 at 20:58
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How are interviewers likely to react if I bring it up?

If it were me, I'd be embarrassed that you'd think your appearance would affect my hiring decision.

Is any specific timing or language better if I do bring it up?

If you do and want to bring it up, a time to do it might be in answer to my question, "What was your most recent job?" or "I see a recent gap in your CV, do you want to tell me about that?" or "Why are you looking for a job now"?

Then you might reply something like, "I've been ill. I am recovered now (but need to remain on the drug, which is why I'm overweight). That will (and/or doesn't) affect my ability to work, so I will (and/or won't) need 'accommodation' (and immediately continue on to other, 'positive' topics without stopping for approval before returning the conversation to me, so that I have something else to talk about with you)."

Timing it like that might help to fit the information in parenthetically, with the types of topic which are usually discussed in an interview: recent experience, motive for working or not working, ability to work, any accommodation needed, and so on.

This advice is off the top of my head, imagining myself as interviewer, and not based on extensive experience of this topic.

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  • I think it's a terrible idea to volunteer that you're taking medication at an interview. Aug 5 '16 at 13:48
  • @DouglasHeld You might be right. I also don't know about whether it's right to mention accommodation or whether that more a topic for HR (when I was interviewer it was at a small company with no HR). I don't know why you think it's a terrible idea: possible personal bias against it? Legal or privacy complications? I thank that disclosure might not bother me, personally: I'm used to the fact that some people do take medication.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 5 '16 at 14:01
  • Offering information that serves no purpose in the interview, can only work against you. If I interviewed a person and they said "The XXX is because of my medication," or even "I'm taking ZZZ," I would get the impression they are insecure and not very effective communicators. Aug 6 '16 at 18:09
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Most people who are prejudiced against fat people (thinking them lazy, weak willed, and so on) would claim they are not. This is natural. People like to believe they are unprejudiced. If you say to them, in effect, "hey I know most fat people are lazy and weak willed, but not me, I was on a medication so this isn't my fault," you run the risk they pay more attention to the first half of the sentence than the second. They could consider you prejudiced on top of whatever negative things you're worried the weight might make them think.

You may deny the first half of the sentence, but if it wasn't true, why are you saying the sentence at all? Ah, because while you don't think that, you worry they think that. That makes the sentence "hey I know you think most fat people are lazy and weak willed, but not me, I was on a medication so this isn't my fault." Is that making it better? I would say it is not. Now you've accused them of being prejudiced. While you would never word the sentence either of these ways, however you word it, you risk them interpreting it with one of those two "first halves" and then you've got a bigger problem than what they think about overweight people.

To show you care about your appearance, take extra care with your clothes, accessories, shoes etc and be appropriately polished and disciplined. To show you work hard, present a resume that lists a lot of hard work, and answer questions the way hard-working people answer questions. To show you have self discipline, present a resume that is clearly the result of striving towards a goal, and answer questions the way disciplined people answer questions.

Discussing your health in an interview is generally a huge no-no. You can sneak it in by telling a story that illustrates something you want to illustrate, and includes it as a side mention that inspires. Say they ask how you deal with the stress of multiple deadlines or fast-changing requirements, or how you deal with a difficult team-mate, or a time you overcame a challenge. Sliding in "while I was beating a life-threatening illness last year" in the middle of the story should be easy enough to do. You might even be able to sneak in "I'm just so grateful to be alive and to have the only longterm consequence be this extra 80 pounds I gained from the meds and will likely always have" as a positively-focused part of that story. But that's a side note. Don't address it head on: it's not going to help and could hurt.

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    Good point, I never considered that I would be suggesting a prejudice of my own. I don't judge people for being overweight, but I'm overwhelmed by the number of people who do and who make that clear in social interactions.
    – JBLillian
    Aug 3 '16 at 15:26
  • @JBLillian, you probably see that more because you are in the common age range for dating. I stopped getting comments about my weight when I was over 40 for the most part. The occasional jerk who tries to fat shame me never does it twice. If you act ashamed of your weight, you will get more people trying to put you down. Anyone who is negative about your weight is not someone you need in your life. Anyone who won't hire you for that reason is someone you are lucky to not have to work for.
    – HLGEM
    Aug 3 '16 at 21:43
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I believe that your fears are genuine, but unfounded. I know that you are uncomfortable yourself in "being fat," if only because of the drug's side effect, but rest assured that other people will not share your discomfort with your weight. You don't need to bring it up, and, if someone did, they'd be being very rude.

"Y'know, you're alive..." Maybe carrying more pounds around with you than you'd like to, but, "you're still here." Let us rejoice in that.

I would also encourage you to ask your doctor if there are other drugs which might not have this side effect. New treatments are being developed all the time.

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Alison Green from Ask a Manager covered this exact question a while back. While I normally expand on her articles in my answer or only reproduce her reply in part I don't think that would do her excellent advice justice so I'll only emphasize the key points:

Don’t bring it up.

The people who are going to discriminate against you because of your weight will do so regardless — but they aren’t going to tell you that in response to an up-front disclosure, and you’ll likely just have an awkward conversation. The people who won’t discriminate against you because of your weight are going to be put off by your assumption that they would, and you’ll end up with another awkward conversation, plus probably leave them feeling vaguely uncomfortable about you (not because of your weight, but because it’s such an odd thing to bring up in a hiring conversation). And you don’t want to make people who are considering hiring you feel uncomfortable.

I suppose there’s an argument to be made that you could do this in such a disarming, charming way that someone who would otherwise be biased against you would change their mind (particularly if their bias was of the softer, less conscious variety), but in general I think this is just something that you don’t raise in the hiring process — just like any other physical feature that shouldn’t affect your ability to do the job. I think your better bet is to demonstrate how awesome you’d be at the job, let anyone who won’t hire overweight people screen you out, and help the people without that bias to recognize that you’d be a good fit. Not everyone does have that bias, after all — and you don’t want to lose sight of that.

Her advice on a similar question was shorter but no less true: "do the interview, and don’t fixate on your weight."

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I don't want to add to your anxiety, but I have worked for a CEO who all but forbid his managers from hiring overweight candidates, smokers, and even people whom he perceived to "walk too slowly." His reasoning was the same for all of those categories - they lacked discipline/motivation/drive. I know of qualified candidates who missed out on opportunities because his directors didn't have some magic silver bullet on the candidate's resume to change his mind. I don't think it's right at all but doesn't change what I observed.

I think it's worth bringing up, as long as you can do so with finesse and keep the time spent on the topic brief. A relatively easy way to do this is to take some of the frequently-asked interview questions that you're already preparing for and find a way to address the issue along with your professional answers. An example may be:

Q: "Tell me about a challenge you recently had to overcome."
A: "In my last job I [professional triumph blurb]. Unrelated to my job but much more challenging was having to find a way to stay active given a medical-related weight gain. I've always loved being on the go and finding a way to keep doing the things I loved had me stumped at first. But I wanted it badly enough that I overcame it and have found ways to stay active. I have a clean bill of health now, but the challenge made me stronger."

Is your current or previous state of health the employer's business? Certainly not. But if it's a job that you really want and is otherwise a great fit for you, it might be worth the risk to you. There are many stock interview questions that you can use this way. You also may discover when you go for your interview that weight is not a big issue for a given company (if you look around, you'll know pretty easily).

I know several people may not like this answer, and I agree it's a fine line. You may just need to feel out the vibe for each interview, but it can't hurt to be ready with some creative responses in case you decide to go for it.

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    I don't think that's a good example: it confuses your ability to perform on the job (which is what the "challenge" question is about) with "medical-related weight gain" and "staying active" ... but probably the desired message is the opposite, i.e. the desired message is that weight gain doesn't have anything to do with job performance.
    – ChrisW
    Aug 4 '16 at 0:14
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    Isn't this answer self-defeating -- would your previous CEO accept a candidate who spent a moment to address her weight? Sounds like no.
    – user42272
    Aug 4 '16 at 21:01
  • Your former CEO sounds like someone I wouldn't want to work for, so failing an interview there would be a lucky escape.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 5 '16 at 8:48

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