How to talk about your mental health before an interview 

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How to talk about your mental health before an interview 

People are often frightened about talking about their mental health to prospective employers. They worry that they will be judged because of it or that it will adversely affect their chances of getting the job.

The good news is there is an increasing awareness that employers need to make the recruitment and interview process fair. They can put things in place to make it more manageable for interviewees suffering from mental health difficulties such as anxiety.

They know a person is more likely to perform at their best in the recruitment process if stress is at a minimum. Increasingly, employers will have trained staff dealing with recruitment for you to talk to ahead of an interview. If you are clear about what is expected of you and you have time to prepare, this will help.

If you are worried your difficulties will make the interview process hard to go through, have an upfront conversation. The employer should then be able to put in place adjustments to help with this.

Mother and daughter talking in sign to each other
How are you going to have the conversation?
  • Find out who person managing the interview process is. Ask to talk to them or email if that feels easier. If you are nervous about doing this, remember you are within your rights. Ask a friend to help you work out what to say.

  • Think beforehand about what would make the process more manageable for you in terms of your mental health symptoms. For example, asking for a pre-interview orientation, being interviewed later to avoid rush hour travel or at home using a digital platform. What has helped in the past?

  • Be prepared to explain what your symptoms are. You do not need to explain all the details but only how your symptoms might affect your ability to do the interview. It might be helpful to have a clinical letter from your health care worker to support you.

Below are some questions you might want to ask ahead of the interview:

  • What will each stage of the process involve?
  • How long will it last?
  • What do you need to do to prepare for it?
  • How will you be informed of the outcome of the interview and when?
  • Will there be any specific feedback?
Your rights and what to expect

Remember that employers are not allowed to ask about an applicant’s health during an interview until they have made a job offer. They can ask ahead of an interview but only to establish what they need to do to make the process practical for your needs and if certain essential functions need to be carried out for a job.

If you are offered a job, in the longer term you may need adjustments at work, so it is worthwhile addressing them early. How the company approaches these issues will give you an idea of what their culture is like and whether you really want to work for them.

Mental health is protected under the Equality Act 2010. This means that if you have a condition which affects your ability to carry out every-day tasks and which is expected to last or has been present for 12 months, employers are expected to make reasonable workplace adjustments. These might include avoiding rush hour travel, allowing more flexible working conditions and allowing time off for appointments. The recruitment process is also included.

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