- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Your Rights as a Service-Disabled Veteran in Job Interviews

by Heidi Lynn Russell, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: RecruitMilitary

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Service-disabled veterans may feel daunted about discussing their ability to perform a job with employers. But there is one simple guideline:

“A job interview is a two-way street,” says Kate Jones, partner at law firm Kutak Rock LLP in Omaha, NE.

“This is for the company to interview you and get to know your background and experience, but it’s also an opportunity for the applicant to learn about the corporate culture and the mission,” says Jones, who concentrates her litigation and appellate practice on employment law. As such, you can decide whether a company fits the bill for supporting veterans and your future career.

Here are specific guidelines for navigating the job interviewing process, from Jones and Tim Mossholder, Project Manager for Candidate Services at recruiting firm Bradley-Morris, Inc., parent company of and Military Transition News.

1. Review the job posting carefully to understand the requirements.

Think about the accommodations you may need to perform all the essential functions of the job.

”I would want to draw a thick bold line in between disabilities that prevent me from doing what is required to earn a paycheck and those that allow me to do the work required, but with just a few added steps,” says Mossholder, who is also a Navy veteran.

For example, if you’re visually impaired and need a special computer screen to do the job, that’s one thing. But if the job requires you to lift 50 pounds over your head every day and you have no physical way to do that, find another job, he says.

“It’s just the same way I’d treat a job that requires high-level calculus and you’re not good at math,” he says.

2. During an interview, an employer is not allowed to ask about how, when or where you were injured, Jones says.

Other questions they cannot ask include:
“Do you have PTSD?”
“Do you have any brain injuries?”
“Do you see a psychiatrist?”
“Did you get hurt in combat?”
“Have you killed anybody?”

3. If you feel a question is inappropriate, ask the interviewer to clarify how it relates to the job.

You could also tell the interviewer you’re not comfortable answering a certain question, Jones says.

“I would try to avoid being confrontational. When you’re deciding how to respond to a question you believe is illegal or inappropriate, take into account the intent of the question, how much you want the job and how your response might hurt your prospects,” she adds.

Also ask yourself how much you want that job. Sometimes it’s worth it to let an inappropriate question go if you know the interviewer didn't maliciously ask it or did so with innocent ignorance of the military culture, Mossholder says.

“Answer it politely and go to the next topic: ‘Yep, I was in an attack that cost me a few fingers on the right hand. I am fully recovered and able to do the work required,’” he says.

Never become adversarial or end the interview and walk out, he adds. On the other hand, do ask yourself whether the question is “a show-stopper” for you. “It’s the same principle for someone who encounters any potential inappropriate question in an interview,” he says.

4. If you have an obvious injury (or voluntarily disclose that you have an injury), the employer is allowed to ask about needed accommodations to perform the essential job functions, Jones says.

Be prepared to be the first person to discuss your injury.

“If it’s something like a missing limb, it makes sense to be proactive and address it at the beginning of the interview. It may appear to be the elephant in the room, but do everything you can to put a positive spin on things. Do not be afraid to address what appears to be a physical disability,” she says.

Practice telling your story before the interview. In a paragraph or two, describe why you joined the military, the skills you learned and why you would be the best person for the job. Then rehearse it in front of a mirror.

Don’t be intimidated by the discussion about your injury. It’s a normal part of the interactive process between the company and the applicant, Jones says. Also, be open to hearing suggestions about alternative accommodations. “Don’t just dictate the accommodations you would want. It should be a back-and-forth discussion,” she says.

And know that you have legal rights.

“Injured veterans are protected by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) and USERRA (The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994) and Human Resources (HR) will certainly be open to a request for an accommodation,” Jones says.

5. If your injury is not visible to the naked eye, “my advice is to never bring it up,” Mossholder says.

“If you know it won’t prevent you from working, but it’s the reason you can’t serve in military, don’t discuss it,” he says.

Many veterans wrongly assume that the requirements in a civilian job match physical requirements in the military. They don’t. In fact, requirements for remaining in the Armed Forces are much more stringent than in the civilian world, Mossholder says. For example, there is no comparison between working in a hot warehouse versus being suited up in full battle armor in 140-degree desert heat. You may be able to do the warehouse job with no problem but have put unrealistic limitations on yourself, due to what you know you couldn’t do in a military environment, he says.

“One critical thing to remember is that the interviewing process is almost always about taking a big stack of resumes and eliminating applicants until only one is left. The goal of companies is to make an offer to the last person standing. As you practice your interview answers, try to recognize and avoid any type of potential “elimination” response,” Mossholder says.

Heidi Lynn Russell writes about employment and business issues.

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