How Much To Reveal At Job Interviews?

Posted: November 3, 2011

A young woman asks for some career advice, on how much information should be shared about a previous illness during a job search or interview. She says, I was diagnosed with cancer at 21 while studying. I had to complete my treatment and it has now been a couple of years. I have since resumed my MBA. My university will be starting the placement process in a few months. So one question I have is whether I need to share my cancer background with the employer. I have a letter from my doctor stating that I am fit etc.

Is it required to share my medical background? If I do share what are the ramifications? When do you share? What is the HR perspective on this? Can it be an asset? I have a good work attitude, so it may work in my favour, but I am not sure how/when to best state that.

Since this will be my first job ever as well as in the placement context, where employers may not have that much time to scrutinize each candidate and may have misconceptions, what should I do?




Here is my suggestion.

Dear Friend,

I am personally inspired by your grit and determination. To me you are a perfect example of tenacity and someone who can turn around a challenging situation to one’s advantage. This experience will help you progress and navigate your way in any organization. However to make a mark at the stage of personal interview, you need to showcase it appropriately. What would help is being prepared to provide specific examples to help the interviewer draw parallels between what you did in the dealing with cancer and job related characteristics. For example, initiatives you took to get back into education or how you reached out to others or starting a social or educational movement in this space etc.

In terms of making a choice, I would suggest that you make the first choice. At the stage of campus placement, many different organizations make a pitch. There is absolutely no dearth of choice. I would recommend that you use a data based approach (considering facts and formal / informal feedback) to shortlist the sector and the potential organizations that best suit you as an individual and keeping in mind the sensitivities of your health. The criteria that you could use would be nature of work, stress levels, travel, and occupational hazard (if any).

Once you decide on the target companies, even in case there is a specific question on past illness in the application form, there is no legal compulsion to make any declaration. To your advantage, most progressive companies strictly adhere by a non-discriminatory policy which discourages the use of criteria other than competencies to select the best candidate for the job. (In case you sense it any other way later you can take up a legal recourse.)

Having said that, in my perspective, as an employee you have a long-term relationship with the organization. In keeping with the spirit of this engagement I would recommend you to be honest and upfront about any / all information about you. If no specific question is asked, you can share the cancer related information as soon as the offer is made. Being honest and upfront will all be to your advantage – if an organization rejects you for it – working in that set up is any way not worth it.

I am sure you will come out with flying colours. I wish you all the best!

Jaya Narayan is a alumnus of TISS, Mumbai and has over 15 years of experience

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