Two years ago, I went to a job interview for an agency that I knew I was a good fit for. I was prepared. I had all my paperwork, I had studied up on changes in the NYS regs in my field, I had dress clothes that fit. One thing I didn’t have was an understanding of what was coming.
I walked in and was seated with three others. A triple interview-as if I wasn’t nervous enough. I had completed the questionnaire and “test” of my abilities to prioritize issues that arise in my field. All I had left was this, the group interview.
The first questions were easy enough. Why was I in my field, what skills did I have that made me a better candidate than others. I was 47 at the time so my life experience gave me a good boost in that area. But then came questions I struggled with. What is my biggest weakness. If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be. And the kicker-in what areas of this position would you need the most support. I was not prepared to answer those questions. after all, what does a person with an invisible disability say to an agency that is in the business of assisting those with visible disabilities?
You see, I am what you call “chronically ill”. I have disease that is incurable but mild in comparison to diseases like cancer and heart disease. I am ‘autoimmune’. What I mean by that is that I have one of 300+ recognized autoimmune diseases such as Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and MS. But my disease is not one of the well known ones. I have Sjogren’s Syndrome.
I’ll bet you all just said what is that and how do you pronounce it? First, it is SHOW-grins. Second, it is an autoimmune disorder where my body attacks itself. My antibodies attack the moisture producing centers in my own body. Most people think that means just dry eyes and dry mouth but it is much much more. And it does not affect the way I look. An invisible disease.
So back to the interview. My biggest weakness is the fact that I am constantly tired. That seems to be a hallmark of every autoimmune disease out there. But the fatigue is such that you can’t move. You can’t think. You fall asleep in the middle of doing stuff. Literally! If I could change one thing about myself-I would get rid of this disease. What would I need support in? Everything. I have gone from being able to walk miles to barely being able to walk ½ mile on my good days, barely being able to walk on my bad. I have gone from being a fair typist to having tremors so bad I have to correct every other word. I have gone from being able to be up and around all day to not being able to sit for more than 20 min at a time. I am absent at least once per month. I have become unable to hold long conversations without water or be in the sun. How do I explain this? Or do I lie to increase my chances of getting the job and tell HR later?
I have been doing what I do for over 30 years. I have taught kids how to walk. I have taught young adults job skills so they can earn a paycheck. I have taught academics, physical skills, and passed meds. I started a social group for teens and a toy delivery network. But I haven’t got the skills to play ball in this new job market. Where I offer loyalty, employers offer none. Where I give honesty, untruths are rewarded. And where I will do whatever is needed, others now say that’s not my job. So how do I sell myself in a job interview and retain my integrity and self respect?
I haven’t found the answer yet. I should be able to present myself as I am with all my knowledge and experience as well as all my faults and flaws and still be regarded as a worthwhile candidate. But we live in the real world and the real economy and there are too many applicants for each single job opening. So where knowledge and experience used to get higher preference; age, weight, and sex can now be more of a determining factor than actual skill. Why would someone like me add medical disability to the list of things a potential employer can use against me? I don’t either.
By the way, wish me luck. I have a job interview next week.