INTERVIEWS / JUL. 10, 2014
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How to Answer "Do You or Have You Ever Used Drugs?"

Everybody has a question that they dread hearing in an interview. For some people, it’s, “Have you ever been fired?” or “Why have you been out of work for so long?” For others, it’s, “Do you or have you ever used drugs?” If you’re in that group, it’s important to plan what you’ll say if that dreaded question comes up.

Like a lot of interview questions, it depends largely on where you live and whether questions about drug use are legal in your country.

  • In the United Kingdom, for example, employers may not ask about an applicant’s personal lifestyle choices, and that includes the use of recreational drugs.
  • In the United States, it’s illegal to ask about use of prescription drugs, because that could reveal private health information. It’s also illegal to ask about past use of illegal drugs, because that could reveal addiction, which is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, those who are currently using illegal drugs are excluded from coverage under ADA, so employers can legally ask if you’re currently using illegal drugs.

 Therefore, the first step in planning your answer about drug use is to determine whether it’s a legal question in the country where you’re applying.

 If the question is legal

Most experts believe it’s best to be vague but truthful.

  • If you’ve never used drugs, then the answer is easy: just a simple “no”.
  • If you experimented with drug use in the past but are not currently using drugs, you can say something like, “I wish I could say I had never tried drugs, but I made some foolish choices when I was younger.” However, it would also be truthful to say, “No, I don’t use drugs,” and that might be your best choice in a country where asking about past drug use is illegal, because the employer will be unlikely to press further.
  • If you are currently using drugs, try something like, “I may make lifestyle choices that some don’t agree with, but I have never let those choices affect my work.” Another option is to say something like, “I have never let my personal life interfere with my work responsibilities.”

If the question is illegal

If you live in a country where questions about drug use are illegal, you have a choice to make.

  • You can refuse to answer and point out that the question is illegal. However, being confrontational may not be your best bet if you really want the job.
  • You can try to gracefully dodge the question by saying something like, “I’m a bit unclear as to what a lifestyle choice has to do with my ability to do the job. Could you please elaborate a little on how it’s relevant? That will help me give a more helpful answer.” A skilled interviewer who knows the question is illegal will likely back off.
  • You can answer the question truthfully, using the answers suggested above.

 

Drug use is a touchy topic, and you should definitely know your legal rights before you head off to an interview. If you decide to answer, be truthful but vague. Sharing the details of your drug use is not likely to help you get the job, even if the question should never have been asked in the first place.

 

photo credit: freeimages via personalfx

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