Should You Reveal Your Disability in a Job Interview?

Career Services




Should You Reveal Your Disability in a Job Interview?

By Gwen Moran
October 11, 2006
 
Taken from DiversityInc.com
 
Rich Donovan's résumé reads like a "Who's Who" of the financial world: an MBA from Columbia Business School, positions at Citibank and the Ontario Ministry of Finance. Now an equity trader at Merrill Lynch (No. 1 on the DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for People With Disabilities list) in the company's New York City office, Donovan is like any other trader on the high-pressure trading floor, buying and selling equity securities, including stocks and their derivatives. The only difference is that he can't write.
 
"I may be the only trader on Wall Street who cannot write, but with the computerization of the market, the ability to use a stylus is not a required skill any longer," says Donovan, who has cerebral palsy. A slight speech impediment requires that he be diligent to ensure that sensitive communications are understood. However, he says, that is good business practice for anyone.
 
Donovan learned about the post at Merrill through Columbia's MBA recruiting program, and chose to self-identify early in the interview process to avoid it becoming an uncomfortable issue. He believes the visible nature of his disability gives him "expectations leverage."
 
"When I deliver best-in-class results, the assessment of these results is greater than it otherwise would be," he says. "Managers learn to adjust their expectations and position me to do the same to their managers. Therefore, as long as I continue to produce high-level results, I tend to get more exposure than if I were not disabled."
In cases where a disability is not visible, the candidate should use his or her comfort level about self-identifying, says Nancy Starnes, vice president and chief of staff of the National Organization on Disability in Washington, D.C. While some companies allow applicants to identify disabilities on their applications, she cautions that self-identifying too early can discourage managers who are uncomfortable with dealing with disabilities from providing a face-to-face interview. So, when applying to a company that does not have a strong track record in hiring and supporting individuals with disabilities, she advises caution.
 
"If the individual with a disability looks at the essential job functions and says 'I can do this and I'm excited about it,' I don't think their disability has anything to do with applying," says Starnes.
 
At Hewlett-Packard (HP), No. 3 on the DiversityInc Top 10 Companies for People With Disabilities list, applicants are not asked to self-identify. However, the company actively recruits individuals with disabilities through e-recruiting Web sites targeted toward people with disabilities, partnerships with organizations such as the American Association of People with Disabilities, and through sponsoring a Disability Mentoring Day in many locations throughout the world, where students and applicants with disabilities are brought into the workplace to learn about opportunities with HP. Sid Reel, vice president, global inclusion and diversity at HP, says such programs are designed to make HP the company of choice among applicants with disabilities.
 
Donovan believes that self-identifying a disability can be a bonus, allowing him to discuss the ways in which his disability helps him do his job more effectively.
 
"In dealing with the disability as a reality for my entire life, I've become a creative problem solver and have the ability to assess a situation quickly, divine 'out-of-the-box' solutions, and take aggressive action quickly. This helps me immensely as a trader, as I can apply the same methodology to finding and executing trade ideas in the market."
 
Reel advises that after self-identifying, people with disabilities should focus on the discussion of skills and qualifications, and they should show how they have successfully performed similar duties in the past. Being ready to discuss these issues can dispel any concern that the disability will affect job performance.
 
"The employer is interested in the individual's ability to do the job with or without reasonable accommodations, and the candidate's past accomplishments are an indication of future performance," he says.
 
Starnes agrees. She uses a wheelchair and says that she's seen looks of surprise when she rolls into a room. It's an opportunity for the person with a disability to demonstrate how he or she can be a part of the company and add to the bottom line.
 
Donovan believes that people with disabilities must build a partnership with potential employers to educate them about how they can help the company meet its business goals.
 
"Most people don't understand disability. It's simply not part of their reality and that is not a fault," he explains. "People with disabilities need to be comfortable enough with the topic themselves to bring another to acceptable comfort level. I tend to use humor and bluntness to bring others 'down from the ledge.' It's hard to feel uneasy if you're laughing, and the less you dodge the subject, the faster you can put it into the background."
 

 

 

Events

Be a Pan Am/Parapan Am Volunteer!
July 10, 2015 - 12:00pm - August 15, 2015 - 12:00pm