Anyone who has taken a career break following a mental health breakdown or burnout will testify that explaining the career gap on their CV during a job interview can be tricky business.
In light of National Mental Health Week, we show you how to address career gaps on your CV which have been taken on account of your mental health.
But first, is an employer allowed to ask you about your mental health during a job interview?
According to the mental health charity, Mind*, generally speaking employers cannot ask you about your mental health during the job interview process. However, there are some situations where employers may be allowed to ask about your mental health during the job interview stage. For example:
- Find out whether you will be able to take an assessment for the job
- Find out whether you need reasonable adjustments to the application process
- Find out whether you will be able to do tasks that are central to the job (though they should also consider the reasonable adjustments that you might need)
- Find out if they are receiving job applications from a diverse range of people
- Establish if you have the particular disability required for the job
- Assess you for national security purposes.
How to talk about mental health during a job interview
In an ideal world, mental health would be discussed as openly and honestly as a broken leg. But due to negative stigmas, this can sometimes be a daunting prospect. Here's three important nuggets of advice to remember when it comes to talking about mental health during a job interview:
1. Conduct an interview practice run where you discuss mental health career gaps
There are a few approaches you can take to discuss career gaps on your CV which were taken due to mental health. You could be completely transparent about the reasons why you left your previous job, yet focus on the positive outcomes of your career break. You could also take a more subtle approach, saying you left for personal reasons or that your previous job was impacting life outside of work.
It’s important to remember that transparency will generally be within your best interest however. At the end of the day, you want a job that won’t negatively impact your mental health, and to work for an employer who will appreciate your health needs.
2. Think about the long-term implications of how you discuss your mental health during a job interview
It’s important to consider the long-term implications of how you address your mental health should you receive a job offer after the interview.
Will the company be understanding of your needs should you become a full time employee? Will you be able to cope with the demands of the role, and the culture of the company? These are all very important questions you should ask yourself, in addition to conducting preliminary research of the company. Be sure to ask the interviewer as many questions as possible to determine the company’s approach to employee wellbeing.
3. Know your rights when it comes to mental health during the job interview and offer process
Historically, employers were able to ask about health history prior to interviews and job offers, regardless of circumstance. Now, employers are only allowed to ask about this when a job is offered, or if a specific ability is intrinsically required, or if not having a set of desirable criteria is a health and safety risk.
If an employer asks you health questions before a job offer is made, you can report this to the Equality Advice and Support Service by filling out their form for reporting pre-employment health questions (the form is at the bottom of this page on their website). Read more about this on their Dealing with Discrimination page.
If you are asked questions about your health at the interview stage then don’t get the job, you may want to challenge the discrimination. A court or tribunal will look very carefully at the employer’s decision not to employ you. An employer must prove that the decision not to employ you was not linked to your disability.