I am a high school student with diverse abilities who is participating in Reena’s Summer Employment Transitions program. I have been applying for remote data entry positions, and thanks to my job coach, I have a job interview next week. Job interviews are so stressful and not knowing whether or not to disclose my disability to the employer is causing me even more anxiety. Please can you advise me as the best way to deal with this issue?
Signed: Stressed to Disclose
One of the most challenging aspects of the job search process for people with disabilities is dealing with disclosure. There are pros and cons of disclosing during any part of the job search process – in your cover letter? At the job interview? After the job interview? I consulted with the Reena job coach team as well researchers Hoff, Gandolfo, Gold, and Jordan (2000) in “Training Resource Network” who offer the following suggestions to help you make an informed decision on disclosure at the job interview:
Evaluate the risks of disclosing
Analyzing the risk factors of disclosing from the employer’s point of view is a critical step for all job seekers. You take a chance that you may not be hired; you may be labelled and face discrimination. Unless your disability could put you or someone else at risk, telling an employer about it is a matter of personal choice. If safety is an issue, you’ll need to disclose your disability at an appropriate time. If you do decide to disclose, consider the following questions before you move ahead: Will this information help or hurt your chances of getting or keeping the job? How will the interviewer react? If you have your disability under control, is there a reason to disclose? Do your coping strategies allow you to meet the job requirements? And are you qualified for the position as well. If you know you can’t perform some of the duties of the job description because of your disability, would disclosure help you get the job?
Benefits of disclosing
There are certain companies that specifically seek to hire persons who identify with a disability. For example, Canada’s Top 100 Best Diversity Employers and federally regulated companies like banks, telecom, transportation. It might be good to disclose that you have a disability (you don’t need to mention what it is) in an application, resume, cover letter, and job interview. Sometimes employers value your openness and how you overcome your disability. Also, the employer can provide accommodations if you disclose. Information interviews, networking, using social media (especially LinkedIn) and finding a mentor in your field are strategies to learn as much as you can about the company and its culture so you can make an informed decision regarding disclosure at the interview.
In the interview, focus on your abilities, skills, experience, and enthusiasm that you will bring to the job, not your limitations. Describe what you can do for the company, rather than what you can’t do. Also, prepare for the job search by identifying employers and companies that also focus on your abilities and strengths. Make sure your skills and experience are a good match for the role and that the work meets your needs. For example, unless your disability could put you or someone else at risk, telling an
employer about it is a matter of personal choice.
Know your Accommodations
It’s important to know exactly what you need to be successful on the job! This is your job. For example, do you need to have extra time for training? Do you need to have a mentor at the workplace or a job
coach on site? Do you require some time off for doctor’s appointments (and you can make up the time during the week)? If you do get the job, you can discuss accommodations with the hiring manager providing you are qualified for the job. Keep the discussion positive and be very clear as to what you CAN DO AND WHAT YOUR ABILITIES AND STRENGTHS ARE. Assure the employer (and yourself) that you will be a most competent and professional employee. Hoff et al write, “Generally, it is best to begin by disclosing only to those who need to know. This allows the individual to form relationships prior to disclosure and helps diminish stigma.”
Disclose during the job interview
Be concise and prepared to explain the gaps in your resume whether or not you decide
to disclose. For example, “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. I have been learning many skills on my own through youtube trainings such as “MS Office” and “Office Skills” . Legally, the interviewer can only ask questions about your disability that relate directly to the requirements of the job. It is illegal to ask any other questions (personal or professional) about your disability.
Job coach support
If you are part of a supported employment program for people with disabilities, your job coach will handle the disclosure and accommodations in advance with the employers prior to and during the placement. Once again, it is important for all job seekers with disabilities to understand their disabilities and accommodations. Being able to articulate this information to both the agency support staff and employer in a clear and concise way will make for a more successful and sustainable placement.
Regardless of your barriers or disabilities, employers are looking for the most qualified candidate who is the best fit with the workplace culture and team whether or not the individual has a disability.
Good luck with your job interview!
Note: Please feel free to email your questions, comments and concerns regarding employment and career issues in confidence to Joanna Samuels, Employment Supervisor, REENA, at email@example.com.