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Careers Café

Planned disclosure


In my last post, I talked about the issues around disclosing disabilities in the pre-interview stages of the  job search. This week, I want to consider disclosure in interviews.

There is no one approach that works for everyone. Nor is there an approach that eliminates the risk of employer prejudice.  That said, considering if and when an employer is likely to become aware of your disability, as well as common misconceptions associated with your disability, can help you decide what will work for you.

If you have a visible disability, it can be useful to disclose your disability during the interview, particularly if:

  • People often come to mistaken conclusions that you can easily dispel; and/or
  • Your disability doesn’t commonly carry stigma.

Maybe you have a noticeable tremor (beyond what one might experience from interview nerves), or slurred speech due to a physical disability or prescribed medication.  You could address that from the very start of the interview.  If you’re open to questions, you might even say so – just make sure you are prepared to handle whatever questions the interviewers might ask.

So, you might start the interview with a brief explanation like, “Before we start the interview questions, I want to mention that you might notice that I have a tremor. It’s due to X, and it won’t impact my performance on the job.  If you have any questions or concerns, I’d be happy to address them, so please raise them. I’m also happy to begin the interview – this role seems like a great fit, and I’m excited to have this chance to discuss my skills.”  If that seems awkward, change it and make it yours.  Practice it.  Get feedback from friends.  Ask them to throw questions at you, including ones that people have no real business asking, just so you’re prepared to respond.

If you have a disability that’s invisible (like a learning disability) or that often carries stigma (like a mental health concern), and you can do your skills justice in an interview without disclosing your disability, it may be in your best interests to hold off on disclosure.  If you do decide to discuss your disability in an interview, make sure it’s the right interview. Sometimes, first interviews are conducted by a human resources professional, while the hiring manager – the person you’ll end up reporting to – interviews candidates later.  It might be wise to save disclosure for an interview with the hiring manager.  The hiring manager knows what the work is really like and will be better positioned to answer questions you may have about the work.  The hiring manager may also have concerns that you can dispel directly (rather than relying on the HR professional to dispel them for you).

There’s still much more to say about disclosure in the job search.  For the time being, I’m relying on others to say it for me.  Mental Health Works has resources primarily for (surprise!) people with mental health concerns, but many of their resources have broader applicability. Their online workbook on “Steps to Employment” has a chapter on disclosure that offers guidelines on planning conversations, as well as some things to consider when deciding whether disclosure will advance your job search or on-the-job success. No amount of planning will make the job search stress-free, but you can help employers understand the true extent of your capabilities through a well-planned disclosure conversation that brings your skills to light.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. Kristin Snoddon / December 12, 2012 at 13:29

    Your two postings about people with disabilities who apply for academic jobs happen to overlook some fundamental points. One, disability is a social and political identity. It is not simply an abnormal physiological condition that (as you hint) interferes with my ability to work; this is a dominant culture-based construction of disability. My identity directly informs the work I do as a scholar; it is not something I try to hide. Equity and diversity enrich the academy as a whole. Most job postings state that applications from “indigenous peoples, visible minorities, ethnic minorities, persons with disabilities, women, persons of minority sexual orientations and gender identities, and others who may contribute to further diversification” are openly recruited. Yet you are not suggesting that candidates anglicize their names to avoid racial discrimination in the hiring process (or explain at the outset of the interview that their being an ethnic minority won’t affect their ability to do the job). This is not the 1930s. Discrimination on the basis of disability at any stage of the hiring process is illegal.

  2. Prof. Jack Miller / December 12, 2012 at 15:03

    Openess is a major advantage. I have been in this situation with potential chemistry students in wheelchairs. The social worker accompanying them said to say no, nobody would hire them and how could they even work in the University labs. The social workers were told that I knew of examples of active chemists in wheelchairs and we would adapt our labs as necessary. Turned out the easy answer was building a variable height wheelchair which gave access to major equipment that coudl not be modified or lowered when it was already on the floor and the sample input was at about 1.5 meters. Several students were a success through to graduate degrees. Telling an employer about the university’s adaptations put the prospective employee in a position of answering the potential employer’s reservations.

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