The job interview dilemma
By Joanna Samuels, MEd, CMF, CTDP, RRP
Over the past 12 years in my frontline work as a job developer and job coach with individuals with disabilities from diverse backgrounds and fields at local community agencies, I have had numerous discussions with hiring employers as well as with potential employees on whether job seekers should disclose their disability in the job interview. People have told me that this can be one of the most challenging aspects of the job search process. In particular, deciding whether or not to disclose an invisible or hidden disability at the interview stage, and how to do so, can be very stressful.
There are pros and cons of disclosing. Here, I present my own observations and experience regarding disclosure and the interview for job seekers with hidden disabilities, as well as helpful suggestions from others who have researched this subject.
Focus on your abilities and stay positive
Prepare for a job search by identifying employers and companies that require people with your abilities and strengths. When you see a role in which you are interested, make sure your skills and experience are a good match for the role and that the work meets your needs. For example, if you like to work from home sometimes, apply to companies and organizations where this is a possibility. Figure out what you need to succeed at a job and in your career.
Evaluate the risks of disclosing
Analyzing the risks of disclosure is critical for all job seekers. You take a chance that you might not be hired, or that you might be labelled and face discrimination. Unless your invisible disability could put you or someone else at risk, whether you tell an employer is a matter of personal choice. If safety is an issue then you will need to disclose your disability at an appropriate time.
If you do decide to disclose, think about the following questions before you move ahead.
• How is the interviewer likely to react?
• Will this information help or hurt your chances of getting and keeping the job?
• If you have your disability under control, is there a reason to disclose?
• Do your coping strategies allow you to meet the job requirements?
• If you know you can’t perform some of the duties of the job description because of your disability, might disclosure help you to get the job?
Consider the benefits of disclosing
Companies that are federally regulated (e.g., banks, telecom providers and transportation companies) have to meet employment equity requirements. These firms are interested in diversity. They seek to recruit and hire candidates with disabilities. Therefore, you might want to disclose that you have a disability (don’t mention what it is!) in your application, résumé, cover letter or job interview. Sometimes, employers will value your openness and be interested in how you have overcome your disability. In addition, disclosing a disability means that the employer can provide accommodations.
Information interviews, networking and finding a mentor in your field are strategies through which to learn as much as you can about a company and its culture, allowing you to make an informed decision regarding disclosure.
If you choose to disclose during the job interview
In an interview, it is important to focus on your strengths, skills, qualifications and experience that are relevant to the position. Employers have often explained to me that the enthusiasm of a candidate for the job, team and company in the interview is key—not his or her limitations. Describe what you can do for the company, not what you can’t do.
Be concise and prepared to explain gaps in your résumé, whether or not you decide to disclose. For example, you might say: “For the last three years I’ve been dealing with a medical issue, but it’s under control now and I’m ready to work.” Legally, interviewers can only ask questions about your disability that relate directly to the requirements of the job. It is illegal to ask any questions (personal or professional) about your disability.
Consider disclosing later
If you don’t disclose your disability at the interview stage then the employer will not know that you need accommodations. If you do get a job offer, you will then need to discuss with your boss or the company decision-maker the modifications you need to be a productive employee and to excel at the role. Keep the discussion positive and be very clear as to what you require to ensure you will be a competent and professional employee.
When you start in a new role, it can be best to disclose your disability only to those who need to know. Forming relationships with colleagues prior to disclosure can help to diminish stigma.
Seek job developer or job coach support
If you are working within a supported employment program for people with disabilities, your assigned job developer and job coach will handle any disclosures and accommodations with employers, both prior to and during a placement (paid or unpaid). Once again, it is important for job seekers with disabilities to be clear on the accommodations they will require. Being able to articulate this information to both agency support staff and an employer in a straightforward and concise way will make for a more successful and sustainable placement.
When considering the disclosure of an invisible disability, it is important to remember that each
job interview and each situation is different. Job seekers with disabilities should analyze the benefits and risks of disclosing and its potential impact on the final decision—the job offer. Regardless of your barriers or disabilities, employers are looking for a qualified candidate who will be a good fit with the workplace culture and team, whether or not the individual has a disability. As renowned speaker and author on employment and disabilities Richard Pimentel has explained to employers: “There are no good jobs for people with disabilities in your company; but there is a good person with a disability for every job in your company.”
Joanna Samuels, MEd, CMF, CTDP, RRP, is an employment resource specialist at www.reena.org. Joanna is a certified life skills coach and personality dimensions facilitator, published author and blogger, and speaks on issues related to employment and careers.