It’s no secret that I have a disability — and a very noticeable one at that. Cerebral Palsy limits my leg movement and affects my gait. So naturally, this brings me face to face with daily obstacles that most people may never have to deal with in a lifetime.
But even though this disability affects almost everything in my life, one thing remains constant: my need for work. And my desire to excel in something I’m passionate about every day! I refuse to let my disability prevent me from doing so…and you shouldn’t either.
Would you believe it if I told you that 20%, or one of five people, have some variation of a disability, ranging from CP to ADHD to OCD to Asperger’s. Just like each of these conditions have differing levels of severity, some symptoms only appear in certain situations.
Even more, each disability comes with strengths and weaknesses. In fact, my motto is that your inabilities produce capabilities.
You’re inabilities produce capabilities!
For example, someone with Asperger’s may be shy and introverted when talking to people, but they’re extremely intelligent and affluent in mechanical technicalities. This person may not be the best at describing to the customer what was wrong with their lawn mower, but damn if he didn’t fix it back to perfection back in the shop. Similarly, I can’t step up or down onto anything higher than a normal stair on my own without falling and busting my teeth apart, but I can pull myself up on a paddle board using just my arms.
So, how do those of us with a disability address our unique situations when interviewing for a job alongside the majority of other applicants who don’t suffer from a disability?
I’m going to let you in on a recruiting secret: employers look for people who
Addressing your disability proves that you have all three of these qualities IN SPADES! Here’s why:
I’m willing to bet that your interviewer wants to ask about your obvious impairment, but because ADA prohibits them from doing so, you’re both left awkwardly not addressing the elephant in the room. I’m aware that my wobbly gait and swinging hair lets the cat is out of the bag as soon as I walk in the door. I also know that this new information will come as a shock to anyone I meet, as my online pictures disclose nothing of the sort.
As soon as the conversation allows, I break the ice and mention it (more on that below). I want to, hopefully, make the other person more comfortable in this environment (interviews are scary enough as is) and also demonstrate that I’m cool with what I’ve got going on.
By addressing it head on, you allow everyone to focus on how totally awesome you are as a candidate in a natural way.
The key word being: confidence. Lead the conversation by disclosing that your disability produced a character strength unmatched in any of the other potential candidates or employees, thus, proving your immediate and inherent value as part of the team.
Once, I was applying a job in a competitive and tricky corporate environment. I could tell this position was handling and overseeing a complete overhaul of it’s current processes and introducing a new system to the department. So I mentioned that my CP had rewarded me with a thick skin. I’m rarely affected or discouraged by negative comments, difficult scenarios, or potentially unwelcoming environments. I explained, “I even respond well to constructive criticism!”
This admission actually worked in my favor! The organization was looking for a candidate who could handle challenging tasks, stressful meetings, and occasionally uncomfortable workplace situations.
Spoiler alert: who isn’t looking for these types of candidates?
If you can find a way to link your disability with a strong work trait or characterization — “My OCD has really helped me to create a time management process and organizational approach to long to-do lists.” — you’ll likely be met with a collective sigh of relief. Possibly a job offer on the spot (okay, slight exaggeration, maybe.)
One of the most effective interview strategies is to be memorable. And no, I’m not suggesting you exploit your disability to seem more relevant. I’m suggesting you try to make a meaningful connection—something that most other candidates fail to do in their nervousness of interviewing.
My inclination to open up about my disability shapes my time with the interview crew sincere and relevant. Those aren’t words you’d usually use to describe an interview, huh? With me, thought, it’s never just a dry, impersonal interview where you’ve spouted off about past accomplishments and how you’d be an asset to the department. It’s more like an actual conversation between two people where I just happen to be demonstrating my value and skills beyond the standard format.
Avoid getting lumped in with the rest of the candidates by forming a connection early. Addressing your disability demonstrates your honesty, something which few interviewers will frown upon and most will appreciate.
After 26 years of combating inquisitive questions and wandering eyes, I’ve become a pro at bringing this up during my interviews—to the point where I’ve been offered a job for every company I’ve interviewed with in person (stay tuned for a future blog on this topic!)
The second key word to remember here is: casual. Casual like cool-as-the-flip-side-of-your-pillow casual. Wait for a chance to bring this up in natural way. I like taking advantage of the guaranteed, every-present interview questions like “Tell me what sets you apart from other candidates” or “What are your strengths?” It’s far less awkward than blurting out “Hi, I’m Lauren and in case you couldn’t tell, I have Cerebral Palsy!
These questions are perfect opportunities to bring up the positive connotations of your disability, describing how it’s shaped and molded the way you approach difficult life scenarios and challenges. Pro tip: if you can relate it back to a work place problem you’ve solved, you’re golden.
Remember though, you have a disability, but it’s not all you are. So mention it…and move on. The connections you’ve made as a result of this conversation will only continue to support your killer resume content and background.
How do you guys address your disabilities or impairments during the job interview? Let me know in the comments below!
Want to share your #CaPABLE story? We want to hear from you! Contact me here
Lauren is the brains behind CaPABLE…and Beyond, founder of LaunchPoint Resume, Cerebral Palsy have-er, and constant chaser of the ‘good life’. Money and Career writer at The Cheat Sheet and occasional freelancer for career, money, and organizational development topics.
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