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Answering Job Interview Questions about Substance Recovery

Networking is how many people in substance (alcohol or drug) recovery get job interviews. Typically, the referring party has revealed your substance history and background to the interviewer.

When you’re sure that the interviewer is well aware of your substance history, find a way to introduce the topic on your terms: I am a better-than-average qualified candidate for this job. As you know, I have fought the substance abuse battle and won.

Emphasize that you are a tested, proven individual who has survived a crucible, taken control of your life, and grown into a stronger person. Try not to become mired in interminable details of your recovery, but stick to your main theme of being a well-qualified applicant who overcame an illness and is now better equipped to meet new challenges.

As soon as you think you have tapped into the interviewer’s sense of fairness, redirect the conversation to reasons that you should be hired. But until you calm the interviewer’s anxiety about your recovery, the interviewer won’t truly hear anything you say about your strengths and qualifications.

Head-on questions in a job interview are unlikely to be asked — Do you drink more than you should? Do you use drugs? But you may be indirectly questioned.

The sample interview question below appears in bold, followed by effective ways to respond to this question:

We have a drug testing policy for all employees. Do you object to that?

  • Answer that no, you don’t object. You don’t use drugs or alcohol. You are very healthy, clear-thinking, and reliable. You are in a 12-step or another recovery program and have been substance-free for a year. Discuss your qualifications for the position.

  • Tell the interviewer no and add that you have no health problems that would prevent you from giving 100-percent effort on every assignment.

Seek more advice on doing well in job interviews when you have red flags such as drug or alcohol abuse in your background. Read Job Interview Tips for People With Not-So-Hot Backgrounds: How to Put Red Flags Behind You!, by Caryl and Ron Krannich, PhDs (Impact Publications, 2004).

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