Dear Sam: Do you ever reveal a learning disability on your résumé or in an interview? I have a 37-year-old daughter trained as a State Tested Nursing Assistant (STNA). She was recently released from her job—after 6 years and nearly perfect attendance—for actions that may or may not be related to her language-based learning disability, diagnosis of high-functioning Aspergers syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) tendencies. These imposing sounding conditions do not always present themselves in obvious behaviors, or are more understandable (acceptable?) if you know her conditions. She has not revealed these to her recent employer and now, in looking for a new position, wonders if and/or when they should be made known to a prospective employer.
I am also wondering if we should impose on her previous employer to both explain her situation, and seek a better understanding as to the impact it might have had on her past job performance and recent release. As a basically responsible, independent, home-owning adult she wants to “make it on her own”, and in large part has done that. But there is obvious concern that “issues” might gradually creep into and compromise her future performance. And her parents aren’t sure how to help!
Through her entire life she has “fallen through the cracks” because her conditions have never been serious or obvious enough for people to really notice, or are compensated for by her generous and gentle personality. But now she is struggling to find a new position, which is a situation that plays to her weaknesses, and has to figure out how to deal with the inevitable question about how/why she left her job! Your insight, resource suggestions and advice would surely be appreciated. — A Concerned Dad!
Dear Concerned Dad: As a parent of a child considered to have special needs and whom may also need accommodations when he enters the workforce, I am touched by your outreach. As an advocate for my son—who is navigating elementary school—I am so moved by your advocacy efforts for your 37-year-old daughter.
To answer your question, I typically recommend one not disclose a diagnosis to a potential employer unless the candidate will require specific accommodations that would not be made for others. The general school of thought is that if an employer can detect your “disability” then it should be disclosed. I performed additional research to ensure that this was the right advice for you based on your daughter’s diagnosis and, from what I read, I would say that this would still be the way to approach a potential employer. In fact in the 10+ years and 7,000+ resumes I have written, I have only disclosed a diagnosis a handful of times, most related to vision or hearing impairment that would have required accommodations and would have been evident at an interview.
If your daughter feels she has access to her past employer and can approach them and inquire about the specific reason(s) for her release, and perhaps also what they will disclose to a potential employer calling for a reference check, I would definitely recommend doing so. I would absolutely encourage her to explain her diagnosis to them, despite it being after the fact, as this may impact how they approach providing a future reference. Perhaps, based on the receptiveness and understanding of her past employer, she could even request a letter of recommendation based on the years of great service she provided before the actions occurred which you believe resulted in her dismissal.
Your daughter will want to craft and practice her answer as to the reason(s) she lost her past job. Of course, based on the discussion she has with her past employer, this will shape how she constructs her answer. The key however is to accept responsibility for the departure, communicate what she learned, and show a movement toward continuous improvement. From past clients I have worked with, along with the research I performed, the vast majority agrees that disclosing the diagnosis pre-job offer is not advisable. Instead, presenting the “differences” and potential accommodations needed to an immediate supervisor, once hired, is the way to ensure she will have the environment, support, and understanding she may need in her next role. I wish you both the most success.