Further Questions: Legalities aside, should applicants address a noticeable physical condition in an interview?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

Legalities related to discrimination aside, if an applicant comes to interview and has a noticeable physical condition, such as (but not limited to):

  • a brace from surgery
  • bandages from a biking accident
  • using crutches
  • a lazy eye

Should they address it with you? The applicant certainly does not have a legal obligation to discuss anything of a medical nature, particularly if it would not hinder job performance and would not require accommodation. However, not mentioning them (especially if they are temporary and/or embarrassing) may be more problematic.

Have you experienced a situation like this as an interviewer and if so, how did the applicant handle it? If you have not, pretend you are interviewing with a cast on your dominant arm. How might you address that with the hiring committee?

A note from Sarah… my apologies if the question is not worded well. I spent awhile reworking the question to make it clear and to use thoughtful language but if you have other suggestions for me, please pass them along.

Colleen HarrisI’ve been in this situation from both sides. As an interviewer, the only mention I make of any noticeable physical condition is to ask if there is anything I can do to make the interviewee more comfortable; going any further is a likely violation and I stay on the safe side. I assume that if the person is interviewing for the job, they met the job requirements and whatever the physical issue is will not hinder them, or it is temporary, or they’ll be able to do the job with some accommodation to be determined when they arrive.

As an interviewee I understand the stress behind this. I have rheumatic autoimmune disease, which is aggravated by traveling, which of course we do for academic library interviews. This means that come interview time, I often walk with a limp, and I usually use a cane. (A purple cane. With rhinestones. Because even your disability accessories should be fabulous, I think.) So, I know the cane will get noticed, and folks will be curious even if they feel they can’t ask due to propriety and HR reasons. If I notice folks looking, I’ll mentioned that air travel makes my RA flare and the cane makes sure I don’t fall flat on my face while interviewing, and comes in handy for corralling upset patrons. I find that being somewhat humorous about it opens the door for questions (which are usually tentative and polite). Since I can’t hide it, I’m pretty open about my disability and have written about it on my blog, which I assume prospective employers have seen, so I don’t mind bringing it into the open and explaining how I am able to accomplish my duties even with the RA. On hiring committees, however, I don’t expect any mention by interviewees about any disability or health issue (though if you have a funny story about how you broke your arm while attempting to help a library user, it’d probably earn you brownie points, haha).

– Colleen Harris-Keith, Asst. Librarian & Information Literacy Coordinator, John Spoor Broome Library, CSU Channel Islands

Note: Colleen is very happy to discuss her experience with disabilities and the job searching process. Feel free to contact her via the contact form or email address provided on her blog.

Marleah AugustineIf I personally was an applicant, and I had some sort of condition — especially a temporary one like a recent injury — I would probably briefly address it during the introductions: “Sorry about my cast — I was in a biking accident. I can’t wait until it comes off in August.” I wouldn’t expect the interviewers to address it, as that could be touchy.

Likewise, if I were an interviewer, I would not address it, but I would naturally be curious. It could really show me (instead of tell me) how the applicant handles a situation that is potentially frustrating — do they handle it gracefully? Do they get obviously frustrated when they can’t use their dominant arm? It’s an interesting situation that I have not actually experienced.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Melanie LightbodyI did once have a candidate who had clearly gone through a rough period in her life with the obvious physical scars to prove it.  We did not refer to it, nor did she address it.  She was offered the job, as a matter of fact.  I don’t think there is any obligation to explain yourself to a hiring manager unless you want to.  People are curious and you may be comfortable talking about it.   However,  I think if you as a candidate feel you will be judged by any physical problem or issue then you might want to consider if it is a job you really want.

– Melanie Lightbody, Director of Libraries, Butte County

Celia RabinowitzIf someone came in for an interview clearly injured they might want to say something.  They might, for example, indicate when a cast would be coming off. An explanation of what happened in unnecessary.  I would not expect a candidate to offer an explanation.  People who have a chronic or permanent situation, like with a lazy eye, might either be used to putting people at ease by mentioning it, or take the opposite approach and feel they have no need to explain.  I think, as a candidate, you should do what makes you most comfortable since the interview is such a stressful process anyway.

Our responsibility as a search committee is not to expect an explanation.

– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH

angelynn kingI would not expect a candidate to address anything about their physical appearance in an interview. The exception, of course, is when it relates to reasonable accommodation — the search committee really needs to know that. I once spent a very frustrating day with a candidate who told us in advance — twice! — that she needed no accommodation during her visit, then upon arriving indicated that she could not walk long distances or go up or down stairs. We ended up arriving 15 minutes late to a half-hour interview with the dean, which needless to say did not make a good impression. Had the committee known ahead of time, we could have taken care to arrange meetings closer together and in buildings with elevators.

On the other hand, I personally would offer a brief explanation, at least for an obvious injury. People are curious, and it will distract them. On one occasion I felt compelled to confess to everyone that my cat had given me a black eye. I didn’t want them getting too imaginative about the alternatives.

– Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.


Filed under Further Questions

4 responses to “Further Questions: Legalities aside, should applicants address a noticeable physical condition in an interview?

  1. NR

    What about self-harm-type scars? Was that what Ms. Lightbody was referring to? I have a pretty banged-up left arm from a difficult period with my mental health when I was younger. I tend to keep it covered at work because I think it makes people a bit uncomfortable, but I do hope it would never cause me to actually lose a job. What do hiring folks think of that type of thing?


    • I’m not sure if self-harm type scars were what she referred to, but I’ll try to find out. My purpose in asking this question was not to see whether or not hiring would be impacted, but rather if applicants/hiring committees are more comfortable/think it’s necessary for someone to say something or not. It can be awkward to know whether or not to bring up temporary injuries or chronic conditions and there’s not a lot written on job advice websites about this.

      In cases of self-harm I would think it’s not necessary at all to discuss that but if someone felt that would be an asset, or if it’s something they discuss freely, then go for it. Maybe that could be useful in certain communities (school librarians, teen librarians, some public libraries, etc.). Great point! If I get more of an answer I will update this! Thank you.


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