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To Disclose or Not To Disclose

Know Your Rights

When it does become necessary to mention your recovery in a job interview, don’t be afraid to be honest. At the same time, a certain degree of privacy is within your right, and the law is on your side. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability, which includes people with substance use disorders who aren’t currently using drugs. Under the federal Civil Rights Act, employers are prohibited from asking about your religious or political affiliations, your race or ethnicity, your age, your sexual preferences and more. Study the protections afforded to you under applicable state and federal employment laws.

“Lots of things are protected from disclosure,” Sisson says. “You might take the position that this is and have that guide you. That’s a choice you have to make.”

Ultimately, you’re in control of what you do or don’t reveal.

Turn a Negative into a Positive

If you are going to disclose, skip the specific details about what drugs you took or how much alcohol you drank, your rock-bottom moments, or which treatment center you went to. Instead, talk about the challenges you’ve overcome and the strengths you’ve gained.

“If you’re going to disclose, then you need to tell the story,” Sisson says. “It doesn’t do you any good to say, ‘Yes, I’ve had a drinking problem.’ You have to tell a story of change and how you’re committed to the change and perhaps what you’ve learned from the experience and how that would make you a better employee or a better co-worker within the organization.

“There are lots of things that people go through when they’re dealing with addiction, and if they come out on the other side sober, they’ve learned strong lessons that lots of other people who aren’t in recovery still need to learn.”

Practice for the Entire Interview

The interviewer won’t want to know just about your road to recovery. They’ll also still ask the most common job interview questions, such as:

  • What are your greatest professional strengths?
  • What is a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work, and how did you deal with it?
  • How do you think other people would describe you?
  • How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What are you looking for in a new position?
  • Do you have any questions for us?

“I’ve interviewed so many people who when I’ve asked them the most standard and basic questions, it appears they’re thinking about it for the first time,” Sisson says. “Take the time to sit down and think about what questions you’re likely to be asked and how you’ll answer them.

“I’d also encourage people to practice with a friend or a parent who can help you formulate answers,” he says. “You don’t want to read from a script, but voicing the answers before you get in front of a potential employer goes a long way to help you clarify.”

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