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
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
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
You're more likely to have an even chance of getting
through the initial screening process.
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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
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).
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
You're taking a calculated risk and will probably be
rejected or ignored by employers who are not truly inclusive and not truly
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.
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).