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I have temporal epilepsy and generalized anxiety disorder and I want to try coming out of the closet when searching for a new job.

My disability doesn't prevent me from doing my job well, but I feel that job interviews are often an obstacle because I don't always look and speak the way that HR expects from a "perfect candidate".

How would you describe this situation in the cover letter?

  • Do you need accommodations in an interview? – thursdaysgeek Jun 5 at 22:40
  • @thursdaysgeek I don't have to use it. Some accommodations possibly would be useful, but I did normal interviews until this point; I think with pretty bad success rates, though. – user855286 Jun 5 at 22:56
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    @David K the scope is different as this question is about "how" rather than "when". – user855286 Jun 10 at 18:00
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    I would be upfront about it I was and if people don't want to hire you because of it do you really want to work for them. – bobthemac Jun 11 at 13:23
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    Does your country have any specific laws that motivate employers to hire people with disabilities? In Brazil there are tax exemptions for companies that comply with several "niceness" requirements, one of them (applicable for large companies) is having a given percentage of PWDs in their payroll. In this case, people disclose that condition in their cover letter and on the e-mail with the cover letter attached. Hence, you might want to search the specif legal term that may be applicable to you. – Mefitico Jun 11 at 18:15
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I'm not sure I would. The resume is all about piquing interest in you and convincing them they have to meet you. It's sad to say, but honestly, a lot of companies would simply bypass your resume if they saw you have a condition that might cause them any sort of inconvenience. It's after they get to meet you and realize you're competent and know your stuff, and that you'll be a benefit to their company that they will realize it's no big deal.

If it's a bigger company, with a more professional HR department that has perhaps had experience dealing with the issues, perhaps they'll be easier to deal with.

Do you have a need for special accommodations for an interview? If so, then let them know when they call for an interview. Otherwise, I'm not sure I'd mention it until I got there for the interview. At that point, be up front and honest--tell them the diagnosis, and explain it doesn't hurt your performance. If you are nervous about it, bring it up when they call for the interview, and offer to send a copy of the letter.

  • And after or during the interview - how would you describe this situation? What formulation would you use? – user855286 Jun 8 at 17:51
  • "offer to send a copy of the letter" I'm sorry for the probably stupid question, but which letter? – Helen - down with PCorrectness Jun 9 at 16:24
  • @Helen -- I'm sorry. I totally misread that. I was under the impression you had some sort of documentation to validate a diagnosis. My daughter is hearing impaired and has a cochlear implant. We have a card that identifies her as such for when she goes through the airport--we can show proof that she has a device in her head for medical reasons. I was thinking you had some sort of Dr's note or something along that line to indicate you should receive the accomodations. My apologies for being confusing there. – Keith Jun 10 at 12:17
  • @Keith I get it now - only that I am not the OP : ) – Helen - down with PCorrectness Jun 13 at 20:11
  • sigh.....I'm not smart sometimes....:) – Keith Jun 13 at 20:23
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+50

How would you describe this situation in the cover letter?

I am going to attempt to answer this head on. Your question was how would you describe this on a cover letter, my answer is as delicately as possible.

If you are going to mention it up front, before they meet you face to face, I would recommend mentioning your disability in a way that shows your determination, spirit to overcome no matter what, ability to learn, etc. What you don't want to do is scare anyone before they have a chance to meet you.

I don't always look and speak the way that HR expects

To me, this is probably a far bigger obstacle, and unfortunately there are people in positions of authority ( hiring ) that will never give someone like you a chance. It is not fair, but it is reality. In this regard, I would imagine you have already developed some resistance to what others think. This hurdle is a numbers game -- getting in front of the right hiring manager who has the right team / opening for you.

Best of luck to you!

4

I didn't see any location indication. My answer is based on my experience in Europe, more specifically, France.

I am a software engineer. I have a disability caused by a neuro-muscular disease. I am recognized by the state as disabled and as such, I am entitled to adaptations in the workplace (like specific screens, keyboards, seats, etc). Because of this, some companies get cold feet at hiring disabled employees. On the other hand, there are laws in place to ensure we are not discriminated against and companies above a certain size have to pay hefty fines if they don't meet a quota of disabled employees.

The thing is, I don't really need adaptations in my workplace, only awareness from my coworkers and management, because my disease doesn't prevent me from performing my duties like any other able-bodied colleague, but can hinder other stuff, like presentation: some times my speech is slurred as if I was death-drunk, I have trouble walking or standing up, but I can't stay seated for too long so I have to take a short break every hour or so so work my legs. All of this is painful, but it's acute, very short-term, pain, not chronic, so pain management with painkillers is not really an option. The odd thing is, all of this is intermitent due to something doctors call the warm-up phenomenon. So you'll see me struggling, and the next minute I'll look perfectly able. This raises questions.

So usually, I'll leave it out of my cover letter entirely, because of the cold-feet stuff I mentioned before. But I'll will mention it as soon as I am in the interviews (phone, or in person) stage of the recruitment process. Especially more so if I am recruited via a head-hunting agency, where I'll meet someone much more HR-oriented, before even meeting with the client's technical representative who will have the final word on my recruitment.

This way, I can lay out all the ins-and-outs of my symptoms and how it might affect my work: it will not affect my technical ability, but might affect my ability to communicate effectively about it, or might make me look like I'm not pulling my weight (always on break) when I am. I will be in pain some times so I might need a minute to come up to speed in a meeting. Stuff like that. The recruiter can then get their client up to speed before any interview is scheduled with them.

In short: leave it out of any cover letter, but mention it as soon as possible during interviews.

3

I can only comment from someone who has applied to positions in the United States. When you apply to a job, you have (in general) three parts:

  1. Resume
  2. Cover Letter
  3. References

And the application itself.

The resume gives you the opportunity to present your work experience and skills for the job.

The cover letter allows you the opportunity to address any shortcoming in your resume, or offer an opportunity to allow you to expand on a specific topic: maybe your most recent job, or a large break in your employment.

References offer people important in your life, especially that from school or your previous employers to vouch for you.

Thus far, there has not been a place for you to discuss your disabilities. However, if you are applying to a US company. There will definitely be an Americans with Disabilities Act form to fill out, where you can decide to disclose your disabilities in the Application. As others comments have mentioned, you can have special accommodations for you as part of the interviewing process.

Now I ask if you really want to work in a company large enough to warrant a Human Resources department. Given your tags, you are asking about the software industry. So I wonder if you really need to apply to jobs in the first place. If you set up a website, or better yet, register to a number of freelancing organizations. You can obtain an income absent the need to go through traditional hiring methods (i.e. and interview). Don’t stress yourself out about the prospect of interviewing and disclosing your disability if you don’t want to. There are different ways for you to make a living where interviewing isn’t part of the process.

Best of luck!

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I would probably leave it off the cover letter. Disclosing information early makes it easy to discard the candidate very early, even though most cover letters are ripped off without being looked at.

It's super easy to avoid all of the complications that come with managing people with disability to discard the resume before the interview process starts.

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    @JoeStrazzere if you need a job, you don't want to be discarded from any opportunities - that just makes the potential options smaller. And since it is illegal (in the US) for them to do so, why make it easy for them? – thursdaysgeek Jun 5 at 23:57
  • Doesn't the law cover initial screening as well? – user855286 Jun 6 at 0:15
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    It does. But it's much easier to discard a resume, and invent some reason why you did it, than to refuse a candidate at interview stage and invent a reason for that. Plus at an interview you get the chance to show how awesome yours skills really are, and to explain how much easier it is to accommodate your needs than the company thought. – DJClayworth Jun 6 at 13:24
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    @JoeStrazzere there are a lot of disabilities out there that have a bad rap in terms of what kind of accommodation would be required, etc. It's strictly easier for a company to pass on them than to risk whatever "burden" the person may, or may not, bring. It's why we need protected classes, and laws against discrimination in the first place. – Malisbad Jun 6 at 14:37
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In the UK, I would suggest checking whether a potential employer is signed up to the Disability Confident scheme.

Disability Confident is a government scheme designed to encourage employers to recruit and retain disabled people and those with health conditions.

In particular, many Disability Confident employers offer a Guaranteed interview scheme.

We offer disabled applicants the option of requesting their application is considered under the terms of our Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS). To be invited to interview/assessment under this scheme, your application must meet the minimum criteria for the role.

If you are having trouble getting interviews, schemes such as this may help to reduce any bias you may be encountering.

Even if you don't make use of a GIS, and their are arguments on both sides depending on the nature of your disability, it should give you the confidence that a potential employer is making an effort to promote a more inclusive and diverse work force.

I am not affiliated with the CAB, they just happened to be the most prominent suggestion in a google search for Disability Confident.

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I'm writing based on experience in the US.

As others have said, don't do this in the cover letter. By doing so you're telling the wrong people. (I'll explain what to do instead after I explain this statement.)

The purpose of the cover letter, along with the resume, is to sell yourself well enough to get the interview. Don't misrepresent yourself, of course, but readers expect you to put your best foot forward in these documents. If a hiring manager's response to your cover letter is "meh", then unless there's a real shortage of applicants, your application isn't going into the short stack.

Further, cover letters and resumes are often shared with the entire interview team so they can prepare to interview you. Most of those people don't need to know about your disability in advance (or maybe at all). By writing it in a document that is likely to be shared, you're disclosing your disability to people who don't need to know, might not want to know lest it influence them, and probably can't do anything useful with the information.

And that gets us to understanding the roles on the interview team. While HR will do some screening, background checks, and so on, HR can generally only say "no". The people who can say "yes, hire this person" are the hiring manager and the other people who interview you. In other words, HR and the interview team have different roles.

One of the roles of HR (or the recruiter) is to make the process run smoothly. So that's the person you want to tell this information to, if you tell it to anybody. And when you tell it, the HR person is going to have questions about whether you need any accommodations in the interview -- so do this in an actual conversation, not email or a letter or voicemail.

Once the HR person understands what you need and what concerns you have, that person can then make any needed adjustments for the interview. HR people are trained to be discreet and preserve as much privacy as possible, so instead of you guessing how to approach the hiring manager and other readers of your cover letter, let the HR professional have those conversations.

I've been on the interviewer side of this situation a few times, and what I and my fellow interviewers needed to know was what to do differently (for example, look directly at the hearing-impaired candidate when speaking). We didn't need to know the background. I've also been on the interviewee side in a minor way (needed some vision accommodations for a coding test). If you get hired there'll be plenty of time to share later, if you choose to, but the interview is about making sure everybody has what they need to have an effective conversation.

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