Dear Sam: Should you ever reveal a learning disability on your resume or in an interview? I have a 37-year-old daughter, who is trained as a state tested nursing assistant. She was recently released from her job — after six years and nearly perfect attendance — for actions that may or may not have been related to her language-based learning disability, a diagnosis of high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive tendencies.
These conditions do not always present themselves in obvious behaviors, and they are more understandable if you know her conditions. She did not reveal these to her recent employer. As she looks for a new position, she wonders whether she should make them 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 creep into and compromise her future performance.
Throughout her life she has fallen through the cracks because her conditions have never been serious or obvious enough for people to notice, or she has compensated for them with her generous and gentle personality.
But now she is struggling to find a new position — a situation that plays to her weaknesses — and has to figure out how to deal with the inevitable question about 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 who 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 moved by your advocacy for your 37-year-old daughter.
I typically recommend not disclosing a diagnosis to a potential employer unless the candidate would 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 did additional research to ensure that this was the right advice for you based on your daughter’s diagnosis and, from what I have read, I would say that this would still be the way to approach a potential employer.
In fact, in the 10-plus years and 7,000-plus 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 inquire about the specific reason(s) for her release and/or what they would disclose to a potential employer calling for a reference, I recommend doing so. I encourage her to explain her diagnosis to them, despite 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 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 why she lost her job. Of course, based on the discussion she has with her past employer, this will shape how she constructs her answer. The key is to accept responsibility for the departure, communicate what she learned and show a movement toward continuous improvement.
From past clients, along with the research I performed, the vast majority agrees that disclosing a diagnosis prior to a 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 success.
Samantha Nolan is a certified professional résumé writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a leading résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job-search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at email@example.com. For more about Sam’s résumé-writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.comor call
(614) 570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).