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Sunday, March 21, 2010

should I address my weight gain in an interview?

I'm back! The week without posts was because I moved, and I'm so exhausted that I can barely move my fingers to type this. However...

A reader writes:

I had a phone interview last week for a position that seems like the perfect job for me. I'm supposed to hear from the interviewer to arrange a face -to- face meeting next week. The job's with the federal government, which I've worked for in the past and am well qualified for.

My problem is that I've gained quite a bit of weight in the past two years (situational reason - I ran my own company for a couple years, working 12-15 hours/day and fell off the fitness wagon for the first time in my life) and am afraid it will hinder my chances of scoring this job. Pre-employment medical exams are required. Do I address the weight issue (and that I'm back on track to fitness) or ignore it?

Please don't bring up your weight or your work-out plan! It's unnecessary, and it'll make for an awkward conversation -- what is the interviewer going to say in response, after all? It's just going to be uncomfortable.

Your weight is only relevant if it makes you physically unable to perform the job -- and if you're unable to perform the job, plans to lose the weight in the future won't matter.

Go, do the interview, and don't fixate on your weight. Good luck!


camorra said...

First of all, you need to go to the home web site of your "ideal" agency and look up the minimum fitness standard they require. Immediately find out how far you are from this goal.
Secondly, if you can not manage this goal, immediately start trying to meet it. This is CRUCIAL!
Finally, at your interview, state where you are in meeting their fitness standards. Do not give excuses about how or why you have gained weight. You can be fat but fit. If they ask how you have gone so far, you may give a brief, succinct explanation. Keep it to a single sentence: you entered a workforce with a heavy workload and had not set aside time to keep up personal fitness. This will probably be followed by some question about your time management, so be prepared! Stay honest and you'll do fine, good luck!

Rob said...

I'd also note that since this if the federal government, they're usually pretty good about sticking to written standards about what they can and cannot consider.

Karen in Boston said...

I'm so sorry about your weight gain - I'm in a somewhat similar situation.

I've been out of work for 18 months and have gained well over 50lbs. I've gone from "average," to the brink of almost plus-size. My fear is a a potential employer passing judgement on my size...thinking i'm lazy and a slob. But I'm not!

Just make sure that when you go for your interview that you make sure that your suit flatters your figure. (even if it means wearing a bigger size than you'd prefer!). A too tight suit on a skinny person looks ALOT worse than an overweight person wearing a well-fitted size 14!

Just because you are overweight DOES NOT mean that you are unhealthy. Plenty of overweight people have decent cholesterol levels and are physically active. And there are tons of skinny people who are very unhealthy - blessed with amazing metabolisms but eat high fat foods everyday!

Be positive! Positivity is one of the most healthy things about a job search. I wish you luck!

Evil HR Lady said...

Welcome back AAM! I'm glad your move is done.

And yes, do not worry about the weight gain. Any mention of it will just freak out the interviewer.

And I have no idea what Camorra is talking about. There must be something I missed.

Anonymous said...

As a recovered Weight Watcher, I know there can be a lot of personal psychological baggage wrapped up in weight gain, but here is an important truth that you need to fully internalize: People Don't Care. If they even notice. Are you going to be interviewing with the same person that you worked for in the past? If not, this person has no idea what you weighed two years ago, so why would s/he care about your weight gain? If it is, this person does not care, if he or she would even notice.

With our nation's obsession with weight, it's easy to convince ourselves that everybody who passes us on the street is looking at us and passing judgment on any increase in body mass. But please, trust me, nobody cares.

You say the job is a perfect fit for you. Focus on this, and your skills, and how awesome you are, and forget about your weight. To that end, as a practical type, I recommend that you make sure you have interview clothes that fit your body as it is NOW, and not as it was two years ago. You'll look better, and you'll feel much, much better and more confident, too.

Anonymous said...

As an employer, my concern would not be the awkwardness of the conversation.

I would most likely not hire them because discussing one's weight or their health issues during an interview demonstrates bad judgement, respect for boundaries, and a lack of restraint.

Unfortunately, I would also be worried that by not hiring the person after they brought up this inappropriate topic, that they would think the reason was their weight and health status, and thus, that the hiring process was a violation of protected classes.

That wouldn't be true, but I would resent the applicant for putting me in that position.

Contrary to popular belief, I do not make hiring decisions based on a person's weight. Or their attractiveness. Or their charm. I do take note of their overall appearance--are they dressed appropriately for the type of job they are applying for? But even this is secondary to their suitability for the job.

Rebecca said...

"And I have no idea what Camorra is talking about. There must be something I missed."

What you missed is that the OP mentioned "pre-employment medical exams." :) The agency/job description stated up front that certain physical requirements must be met. Camorra was advising on how to handle this situation if you almost meet or don't meet the requirements.

Depending on the agency and the job, the requirements might be as simple as making sure you don't have a health issue that would totally prevent you from doing the job safely (same kind of stuff UPS would want to know before they let you carry packages or drive a truck). They might also be as specific as physical fitness tests and benchmarks for blood pressure, heart rate, body fat %, etc. Also, the job might be in a remote location far from modern medical facilities, which would be a problem if you have a condition that requires regular advanced care.

In a normal job interview, the company would have no right to ask you about these things, but in a job where your physical fitness and/or medical history are relevant to actually doing the job, they need to know about it to be able to consider you. It's a matter of safety, not a matter of only wanting thin pretty people.

The OP isn't asking "omg they're gonna think I'm so fat and gross what do I do?!" She's asking "if I look like I might not pass the required medical exams, do I need to address it in the interview to keep them from ruling me out, and if so, how?"

Evil HR Lady said...


I've always worked for companies that required medical exams. These were office jobs. Weight wasn't an issue.

For a job that being over weight would mean you would be barred from working, there's no way someone's going to hire you with a promise that you'll lose weigh.

Bethany said...

Karen, size 14 (at least in the shops near me) is not for overweight women. Yes, those who fit them perfectly are usually a bit "aerodynamically curvaceous" but they're not overweight.

Size is merely a number that changes from brand to brand and shop to shop. If the number means that much, get your professional clothes at Chicos. Their size 2 is a size 14/16 at NY&Co.

Anonymous said...

Just because the job requires a medical exam doesn't mean that weight is an issue.

Companies are only allowed to use medical conditions and history for employment decisions when they have identified specific medical conditions which would be dangerous to a worker in a specific job. Such as operating heavy machinery if you have epilepsy that cannot be controlled reliably.

Furthermore, weight is not classified as a medical condition. It is an INDICATOR for things like diabetes and high cholesterol. But it is not a certainty, and most of these things would not prevent a person from doing any kind of job.

In any case, the weight issue should only be discussed with the medical professional conducting the exam. Because they are the only ones qualified to decide if the applicant's weight is an issue. Not the HR manager.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Ask a Manager, for your sound and prompt advice (which I followed). I had my interview yesterday, focused really hard on my qualifications and experience, and feel that the interview went very well. I expect an answer by end of this week.

I invested in a terrific suit and felt like I was looking great when I walked in which boosted my confidence, too. Thanks commenters and good luck to you, too!