I’ve had so many crushes on companies. But finding the right fit can be hard.
It reminds me of speed dating. You sit or Zoom in front of that recruiter and exchange questions—What is your background? Can you tell me about yourself? Why do you want to work for our company? Then you advance to the next recruiter, and repeat the same process.
At the end, you determine who you want to “date,” or move onto the next round of the interview. Do they understand what you’re looking for? Should you give them your number?
But when you have a hidden disability there’s an added challenge: figuring out if the prospective workplace will truly be welcoming.
Companies say they want to be accommodating. Any time you read a job description, you come to that part where they say they’re open to hiring candidates with disabilities. But in my experience, as someone with a hidden disability, that’s not always the case. I’ve applied to enough jobs to know that very often companies aren’t supportive.
There’s the risk of joining a company that is intolerant or unwilling to make accommodations. Before interviewing, I talk to current or former employees. I read their blog to see if they say anything overt about employees with disabilities, or mention any accessibility training. Often I find that it’s all hot air.
If I do decide to apply, then I have to figure out when in the process to disclose—whether that’s to a recruiter or a hiring manager. How much should I tell them about my disability?
A while back, I had a call with a recruiter. I was telling her all the right things on the phone. You know, that cookie-cutter answer—how excited I was about the opportunity, how passionate I was about the work, even though the truth was that I was scared about being able to handle the opportunity. She asked me what kind of work I wanted to do and I gave her an answer I knew she wanted to hear, even though it wasn’t the truth.
After thinking it over, and feeling bad that I hadn’t been myself, I called her back. I shared with her that I had a hidden disability. She was shocked, and told me that no one had ever mentioned their hidden disability to her before. She told me she would have to be educated on that front.
I was delighted that she was honest about this. Then she told me she was sorry. I told her there was nothing to be sorry about. That day I felt better in my own skin because I had told the truth. So from then on, I decided I would generally disclose right away that I had a disability and needed accommodations for the interview process. (Sometimes this happens in the first phone call, or sometimes I wait a bit until we do our intros.)
Getting to this stage took a lot of guts. Earlier in my career, when I was interviewing somewhere, I would never ask for accommodations, and just go through the process. But I eventually learned to ask the recruiter what the process was and share that I have a hidden disability. I wanted to better prepare for the interview and asked if there was a form I needed to fill out, or what the overall process was. Generally recruiters have responded by asking what sort of accommodations I need and I explain those via email.
Most companies have listened and I do get accommodations. When that hasn’t been the case, it tells me that this might not be the best place for me. Here are three things I keep in mind when looking for a job, as a person with a disability:
Do your research
The number one strategy to finding a company that will support you? Do your research. Read the company’s blogs and look at their social media to see what they talk about and who is featured. Most importantly, try to talk with people who can be real with you. Look at LinkedIn and find current or ex-employees. You might know someone who can do an introduction for you so you can learn about how the company truly operates.
Ask about company culture
This is the easiest thing you can do in any interview. Just ask what is their opinion of their company culture and why they like working there. In my experience, it’s a super simple question that can have a revealing answer. One time I asked in an interview how the company supported diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. The woman I was interviewing with was unable to give me a good answer—she said I’d have to talk with HR. I told her I was interested to know the company’s approach to accessibility because I have a disability. She hedged and explained that they were “a small company,” which told me all I needed to know—that they didn’t have a process in place to accommodate someone like me. It was disappointing, but good to know the truth.
Watch out for red flags
When I interview, I’m constantly looking for red flags and the feeling I get when I bring up accessibility. Do they show empathy? Do they pause for a long time before answering? I’ve found you can definitely hear the difference between when someone is genuinely excited about inclusion work, versus when they don’t care at all.
Terri Rodriguez-Hong is a UX/UI designer in Silicon Valley who helps run a podcast called Ramblings of a Designer. She wholeheartedly believes accessibility is everything and loves to connect the dots between the company and the end-user.