Your Social Security Disability (SSD) claim was denied — then, denied again. You filed for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) and  waited months for your chance to plead your case.

The last thing you want to do is to let a simple mistake ruin your chances of winning your appeal, so it’s smart to prepare the answers to certain critical questions in advance. One of those questions — coming directly from the ALJ — is likely to be, “So, why can’t you work?”

Before you answer, you need to choose your words carefully. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t say something like, “I lost my job.” That implies that you can work, but you see disability benefits as a viable alternative once your unemployment runs out.
  • Don’t say anything like, “Nobody will hire me.” Again, that implies that you’re merely frustrated with your job search and your local economy, not actually unable to work.
  • Don’t just give your diagnosis. While something like, “I have diabetes and a heart condition,” may sound clear enough to you, you need to remember that everybody experiences health problems differently.
  • Be descriptive about your limitations. Your diagnosis is in your records. What the judge wants to know is how your condition affects you on a day-to-day basis. Say things like, “My diabetes has caused numbness in my hands that makes fine movements very hard. My heart condition keeps me from doing anything that requires standing, lifting, carrying or walking.”
  • Know how to describe your pain. Remember: It’s unlikely that you have pain that’s an “eight” on a scale from one to 10 every single day. It’s okay to tell the judge that your pain varies and gets worse with activity or when your condition flares.

Prepping for your hearing with the ALJ can take time, but the results are worth it if you win your claim. Talk to an experienced attorney about other steps you can take to tilt the odds of a successful Social Security Disability appeal in your favor.