Although it’s illegal for employers to ask specific questions about your health, it’s not out of the ordinary for them to inquire about a gap in employment. Again, stay in control and be prepared; decide on your answer ahead of time. The best answer is brief, expressed in general terms and focused more on the future than on the past. We call this technique “The Swivel,” because your goal is to acknowledge and address what is asked, and then redirect — or swivel — the conversation toward something more productive that addresses your actual goals and desire for the job.
The ideal swivel does not leave an opening for the interviewer to dig further into the gap but instead nudges them to pick up the conversation from the point you swivel it to. You don’t want to lie during any part of the hiring process, but it is important to remember that no one shares every last detail about himself/herself in an interview. The purpose of the interview is to figure out whether you and the company are a good match. When planning your swivel, you’ll want to come up with a succinct, authentic answer to the gap question and then practice it over and over until you feel completely comfortable with it.
- “I was dealing with a family issue that is resolved now, AND I am thrilled to discuss how my management skills can build the team and grow your business.”
- “I realized that what I was doing didn’t fulfill me, so I took a step back to think about what would make me happy, AND I think my tech background would really be an asset not just in this role but to the company as a whole.”
Here are some examples of other challenging questions and how you can use the swivel to answer them:
- Q: “When I Googled your name, an article came up in which you were interviewed about being diagnosed with cancer — are you still experiencing any problems or health needs?”
A: “Thank you for taking so much interest in me. The opportunity to speak to the press gave me some incredible new skills that I think would be particularly relevant to this role, including X, Y, Z.”
- Q:“I noticed on your LinkedIn profile that you are a member of a lot of cancer-related groups. Are you a cancer survivor?”
A:“Like most people, I’ve been touched by cancer, and finding a way to give back is very important to me. Plus, all my volunteer work has afforded me the opportunity to develop some great skills that I believe would be applicable in this position, including X, Y, Z. I noticed the company is very involved in the Special Olympics. How did that become a priority? Will there be opportunities for someone in my role to participate?”
For more on managing disclosure when looking for a job, read here.