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Interviewing for a Job when You Have a Disability

OK, so now we‘ve talked about narrowing down your employment goal and applying for the job. The next step is interviewing. This can take many different formats and process, so let’s touch on those briefly and then focus on the aspects that are different for people with disabilities.

First – interviews can take several different formats and follow different processes. These are the most common:

Phone Screening – When you speak on the phone with the interviewer, this is the least intimate and can be the least intimidating, but I actually find it challenging because you do not get to watch the interviewer’s body language when you are responding. Also, if either of you are on speaker phone, there are the issues with that mode of communication. Some people prefer the phone screen to eliminate the pressure of being seen, and this format allows them to simply focus on what they are hearing and saying without the visual distractions. Its important to note that in almost every situation, this is just a test to get you to the interview, so keep that in mind with your responses. Be positive, try not to just give a “yes” or “no”, but to expand a sentence or two about your response. Try to let your personality show through but also respect that this is a time limited conversation and most folks doing phone screenings have a set schedule.

Electronic Screening – I just learned about this and am happy to hear about it! This seems like a hybrid of the application and screening/interview. Where you have time limited online questions to respond to.

Video Conference Interview – When you use skype or other teleconferencing technology. This allows you to see and read the face of the interviewer. It is a little more personal, but still challenging because of the delays and other issues that tech can give you. Be aware of your back ground. If you are using your phone, hold it still. Do what you can to minimize distractions the interviewer may experience (try to be in a quiet place without a lot of movement (like people walking behind you).

Group Interview – this is when you are interviewed by a panel of people all in the same room. They may take turns asking you questions, or each one may ask 3-4 questions, or they may respond to each other and interact with you during the interview.

Individual Interview – this is the very basic idea of interviewing when you are just talking to one person and they do all the questioning.

Day of Interviewing – This method is common when you are one of only a few candidates remaining and oftentimes occurs when you have to travel for the interviews. It is literally a full or three quarters of a day where you interview with several different people, but they are one on one interviews all day long. This is exhausting. You do not get the benefit of a group interview where you will only be asked the same question once. During a day of interviews, you may be asked the same (or very subtly different) question over and over.

Second, there are 3 formats of interviews I have seen designed specifically for people with disabilities:

Walking/Tour Interview – This is when the interview happens while the candidate is shown the work area and the specific job duties. This typically takes twice to three times as long as an individual (sit down) interview but allows the candidate to get a much better sense of the work, the work environment, the tasks, the co-workers and other aspects that can reveal important information when gauging whether the candidate is a good fit for the opportunity.

Project Interview – I am only aware of Microsoft offering this, but I am sure others have adopted the concept. This interview takes place over several days/weeks. The candidate(s) work with other employees/supervisors on a specific project. During this interview, the candidate is provided housing, transportation and meals. This interview format gives the employer an extensive chance to see the skills and capabilities of the candidate and gives the candidate an extensive chance to see the work and the workplace.

Formalized Temp to Perm on the Job Training Work Trial – I have seen many versions of this, but they all have several core similarities: 1. Designated time traditionally 2 weeks to 12 weeks 2. Designated trainer working side by side and then fading from candidate 3. Paid experience, but the employer of record is someone else, usually a temp or contract staffing firm 4. Regular evaluation of progress toward desired production and other standards, (if progress is not made, the trial can end early) 5. Real work not simulated work. This is an elaborate and complicated concept that reduces the risk for both the candidate and employer. It isn’t really challenging to set up if the company already has a temp/contingent staffing firm contract and a solid relationship with a disability support training agency. And it is a great chance to truly see what someone can do (and a great alternative to a traditional interview protocol).

OK, so now let’s get to the heart of the matter. The following two topics are discussed the most when people think in stereotypical ways about “interviewing candidates with disabilities. And please keep in mind, this post is directed to candidates, not the interviewers.

Accommodations – Regardless of your disability, if you will need an accommodation during the application, interview or employment, you need to ask for it. If you’re unsure of a process, or physical structure, or whatever other dynamic of a situation requires an accommodation, it is incumbent on you ask about it, determine if you will need an accommodation and then to request it, explain what and why you need it and be a part of the process to determine what is reasonable to meet your needs. Don’t ever assume that because a person knows you have a disability, that they also know what accommodations you will need, or how to provide that accommodation. There may be 100 people in the US and maybe 1,000 in the world who are familiar enough with all disability types and all types of work environment and effective accommodations to predict that, so just assume you are not dealing with those folks. That’s it. Everyone needs instruction and education and patience as they try to figure it out. Click here to download my recommended resources on self ID/disability disclosure and requesting accommodations.

Disclosure (AKA Self – Identification) – the greatest debate is whether to disclose or not. There are a few factors to consider:

1. Obvious or apparent disability – if there is no way to hide your disability, disclosure is not really a choice, but more a factor of how you manage it. However, it’s worth noting that there’s a difference between everyone being able to see your disability and you disclosing. If you’re applying for a job with a federal contractor, you’ll have the “opportunity” to tell them pre- and post- offer and an employee. The employer cannot change how the question is asked, so do not take offense from the way it’s worded, they are just following regulations. However, you do have to “self-identify” as a person with a disability. They can’t check the box for you even if your disability is obvious. So, when you see the question, just check the box “yes”. Or don’t, it’s your choice… future posts will address more about self-identification.

2. Not obvious, or non-apparent disability – about three quarters of disabilities are non-apparent, meaning that other people probably can’t tell that you have a disability unless you tell them. It’s your choice whether you decide to disclose on any of the forms (when you’re asked if you want “to identify as a person with a disability”) and or whether you want to disclose to supervisors and/or colleagues. Personally, I found it exhausting when I tried to hide my disability. Maintaining that much secrecy is tiring and weighed on my mind. But I hid it for years, primarily because I was afraid people would ask questions that I wasn’t comfortable answering and/or that the stigma about my impairment would impact how they interacted with me. When I got my second disability, I really didn’t have a choice, the accommodations I needed required me to ask everyone for them. And over time, that gave me confidence to disclose the first one. But it’s a very personal choice whether to disclose to colleagues/supervisors/friends. There’s no reason to be ashamed or hide your disability, but the fear of other people’s reactions is real and unfortunately, there are many close-minded people who have false beliefs about particular disabilities.

With disclosure comes the unfortunate responsibility of education. Most people don’t understand different types of disabilities (and it is unreasonable to think that they should). Not only are there individual variances in manifestation and severity, but also subtle nuances can be important. I had a wonderful colleague who is blind, and she vented to me once that she was tired of being responsible for “Blind 101”. And I get it, she had to constantly explain her condition, how it affected her sight and what colleagues needed to know about her vision, her accommodations and her service animal. But the alternative was for her to rely on other colleagues to “spread the word” and that seemed risky. On a side note, I also have a friend who says she is tired of being responsible for “Judaism 101” and having to explain keeping kosher, keeping the Sabbath and other aspects of her religion that people needed to know to respect her. But I think that’s the price we pay for inclusion and it really isn’t that high of a price to pay (again, this is my opinion…) but not that different from me wanting anyone cooking a meal for me to know that I cannot tolerate any level of spice in food). Click here to download my recommended resources on self ID/disability disclosure and requesting accommodations.

So that’s it… It's a LOT of information, I know, but I think it hits the high points of interviewing when you're a candidate with a disability. As always, leverage a friend or family member (or mentor, or job coach, or teacher, or…) to help you practice and devise your responses to possible questions. And if you're going to disclose and/or ask for an accommodation, rehearse that too. This is your time to shine and show the employer how valuable you are to their needs. In the end, that’s what it comes down to… demonstrate to the employer that they’ll make money by hiring you… the bottom line of the employment relationship between employee and employer is value. If the employer makes money by hiring the employee, they both get to stay in business. It’s not the only aspect and it shouldn’t be the feature points of your interview… but I think it’s an important background piece of info!

As always, if you disagree with me, or want to comment, please do.

If you are unsure what a person with a disability can do? Take my “Disability Quiz” online

Unsure of what value people with disabilities (as a group) can offer to businesses? Feel free to download my new eBook: Disability Inclusion: A Summary of the Direct and Indirect Benefits

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