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To Disclose or Not To Disclose

Seven tips for navigating a job interview while in recovery

Interviews are stressful enough even for the most squeaky-clean candidate — from familiarizing yourself with common job interview questions to researching key facts about the company to practicing articulating how your skills can be of benefit.

College students in recovery who are navigating a job interview have an added layer of pressure: Should you disclose, or should you not disclose? But whether you have gaps in your résumé or you must check boxes on applications other candidates don’t, previous substance use doesn’t have to become the main topic of conversation.

Jim Sisson, principal and vice president of Vantage Associates in Birmingham, Alabama, and alumnus of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, has conducted many interviews throughout his 32-year career. Here are some of his tips to help you overcome your anxiety and nail your next interview.

Find the Right Fit

Before you even apply for a job, research the company and its culture to make sure it’s a good fit. Consider where you are in your recovery, and think about whether the company offers a supportive and safe environment. Look for an organization — not necessarily just a job — that will help you manage both the demands of recovery and the demands of your career.

“When you go into an interview, there’s a tendency to sell yourself for that job,” Sisson says. “The truth is, it’s more powerful to sell yourself to the company and not for the job. There are lots of jobs. Every company has jobs. Finding out how you fit into that company is a much more powerful way to present yourself.

“And if you are going to disclose, make sure your story speaks to the organization you’re addressing,” he says. “You should show up saying, ‘I’ve looked at a lot of companies, and this is the one I want to work for.’”

Be Prepared

Although it’s possible to have an entire job interview without even mentioning your drug or alcohol recovery, you should be prepared to talk about these issues with your interviewer.

“You have to go in with some things that you’ve already decided,” Sisson says. “Are you going to be honest? And I would recommend that to anybody. But being honest may also include not answering certain questions, though there are consequences to that as well. But it’s always easier to make that decision when you’ve had a chance to sit and think beforehand as opposed to in the heat of the moment when someone springs something unexpected.”

Sisson recommends thinking about what your position is going to be on disclosure and under what circumstances you’ll disclose.

“Most people are better off not disclosing unless they need to,” he says. “But it’s so prevalent these days that if you do disclose, you’re not that unique in the population — except for perhaps for your honesty.”

Whatever you do, just don’t start your interview off trying to explain something you haven’t even been asked about.

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