When to Discuss Your Disability With a Potential Employer

By Jim Hasse

Deciding when to disclose your disability to a prospective employer depends on your type of disability, how you are positioning yourself for a particular job, your type of personality and temperament, and the type of employer you are targeting.

In other words, there is no easy answer to this key question, especially if you have a hidden disability. But, every job seeker with a disability eventually needs to personally come up with a strategy for addressing this issue.

Remember, under the ADA, you are not required to disclose your disability to an employer. And, if and when you do, you are not required to tell everything about your disability. Once you disclose your disability, a potential employer can ask for limited information about your disability.

In any case, when you do disclose your disability, you need to be prepared to provide just the basic information about your disability, about your limitations and about accommodations you may need to complete the application process, perform essential job functions and receive equal benefits and privileges as an employee.

And, if you wish, information about your disability can be confidential. Your co-workers do not need to know about your disability or need for accommodations.

With those guidelines in mind, consider these three potential, largely mutually exclusive disclosure strategies. Each option largely stands on its own, has important advantages as well as disadvantages and should be applied only after careful examination of your particular situation and of the potential employment situation.

At any rate, they may help you decide when and how to disclose your disability.

Strategy 1: Getting Your Foot in the Door First

Don't reveal your disability on your resume or cover letter (even if you have gaps in your work experience due to your disability) because it will potentially trigger preconceived, inaccurate notions about disability among the people screening resumes for the open position.

Eliminate achievements or associations on your resume which may reveal your disability.

Instead, do everything you can to get your foot in the door for job interviews, and, if your disability is visible, try to put your interviewers at ease early on in the process, assuring them that you have the skills.

Benefit:

You're more likely to have an even chance of getting through the initial screening process.

Drawback:

You're surprising your potential employer or job interviewers, who, at first, may be so preoccupied by your disability, if it is visible, that you'll have a difficult time helping them focus on your qualifications for the job. The employer will not be prepared to provide you with any accommodations you may require at the time of your interview.

Needed Preparation:

Let your confidence and out-going personality shine. Show you can control an awkward situation. Be prepared to handle a variety of reactions. Weave your disability into the entire interview, showing how it has prepared you for meeting the work requirements and helping the company extend its success.

Strategy 2: Disclosing Your Disability to a Prospective Employer as Soon as Possible

Include a "Personal Statement," a few paragraphs in length on a separate sheet or document, with your resume. In this statement, briefly describe your disability and explain what adaptive strategies you use to get your work done.

Benefit:

Briefly describing your disability upfront may help your interviewers become comfortable with you more quickly, giving you more time to emphasize your skills and attributes (what you can offer instead of what you perhaps need in terms of accommodation).

You're informing your potential employer about your disability right off the bat, and, in doing so, you're putting the focus on how you're able to do the job. The employer can be prepared for the accommodation you may require at the time of your interview.

Drawback:

For employers who are not truly inclusive and not truly disability friendly, you may be setting yourself up as a job candidate who, in effect, is saying, "Don't bother considering me for this job. You have plenty of other qualified job candidates without a disability."

Needed Preparation:

Carefully craft you "Personal Statement" so it not only describes your disability and accommodation needs but also shows why disability has helped you acquire the qualities you have discovered, through company research, that are high on the list of your targeted employer's needs.

Strategy 3: Positioning Your Disability as a Competitive Edge

Instead of selecting an option for when to reveal your disability to a prospective employer (as though your disability always has to be a negative factor), the table 180 degrees. Position your disability experience as your competitive edge and target employers who claim to be disability friendly.

Consider what you've learned by adapting to (and living well with) your disability as part of your functional experience and link those lessons to the development of your accomplishments and skills.

That will give you ideas about how to develop your personal narrative as a job seeker around your disability experience. Use your personal narrative to drive your entire job marketing campaign (your resume, your offering statement, your portfolio, your company research, your networking and your job interview preparation).

Benefit:

You're taking the initiative to show so-called disability friendly employers how your disability-honed experience has strengthened your problem-solving ability, your resiliency and your emotional intelligence -- attributes that are valued by employers and that give you an advantage over other applicants for a specific job.

By doing so, you may discover a golden opportunity in an organization which realizes that hiring people with disabilities is good business.

Drawback:

You're taking a calculated risk and will probably be rejected or ignored by employers who are not truly inclusive and not truly disability friendly.

Needed Preparation:

Incisive company research is important here. You need to network to find which companies on "disability friendly" lists are really all-inclusive or just there to make a good showing and meet U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements.

You need to know yourself and why your disability experience is relevant to today's workplace. And, you need to know how to explain the connection between disability experience and workplace success in simple and concrete terms that are meaningful to hiring managers.

Disclosing your disability before or during a job interview probably hinges on your personal preference and personal situation. But, choosing a course of action with your disability, the job, the employer and your job seeker competitors in mind -- and following through with that strategy -- is essential to getting hired in today's job market.

 

Copyright © 2012. Hasse Communication Counseling. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, coaching guide for parents of CP youngsters, Jim Hasse, ABC, GCDF, (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse's forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com).