Job search advice for students and grads with disabilities

Job search advice for students and grads with disabilities was originally published on College Recruiter.


By day, Dan Cross is the Talent Acquisition Strategy Manager at Capital One. But a role he always embraces night and day is disability advocate. We posed a few questions to him and he gave some insightful tips for students and grads with disabilities who are job seeking. We share his advice below. Cross is outspoken about HR issues and trends (find him on Twitter @CrossOverHR), and was named an official SHRM 2018 blogger. 

Q: What are the unique opportunities and challenges that students and grads with disabilities may face when job searching?

Dan Cross: Students and grads with disabilities have a unique opportunity to share their personal journey, often times one of overcoming adversity, with potential employers. This type of perspective and experience can be the positive differentiation needed to stand out in the crowd of applicants and catch the eye of the hiring manager or recruiter. More and more, companies are seeking diverse viewpoints from their employees and students and grads with disabilities can offer that and contribute positively to the organization’s workplace culture.

While there are positive opportunities for students and grads with disabilities, there are also many challenges and barriers to entry-level employment. People with a disability will face bias in some way or another during the hiring process. This is especially true if the disability is visible or if an accommodation is apparent. Entry-level job seekers should be prepared to share their past experiences and expertise in detail while also being able to highlight critical skills and competencies that show potential for future performance.

Job search advice to find opportunities for students with disabilitiesQ: What should entry-level job seekers know about what “reasonable accommodations” means? 

Cross: First, job seekers should know and have a plan for accommodations that work best for them to get the duties of the job done. This could be adjusting aspects of the job as simple as the technology used (example, screen reader or specialized keyboard) or a tweak in the work schedule to allow for more frequent or longer breaks in the day (but still the same amount of working time). Knowing the financial impact and process for obtaining these types of accommodations will help the job seeker partner with the organization to understand what’s “reasonable.” Often times, employers are simply intimidated at the thought of “reasonable accommodations” — thinking they are too expensive or will be too time consuming to administer. Giving them more information about what works best for you and how to make it happen will help ease those concerns.

Often times, employers are simply intimidated at the thought of “reasonable accommodations” — thinking they are too expensive or will be too time consuming to administer. Giving them more information about what works best for you and how to make it happen will help ease those concerns.

Q: Tell a story of a student or grad who achieved success in securing employment and later adding value to his/her organization.

Cross: I recently had the chance to check-in with a former athlete I coached in Special Olympics basketball. She is a security guard at the stadium for the university she’s currently attending. For big games, they open up many different entrances around the gymnasium and stadium to try to avoid long lines at security. However, many people still only go through the main entrance. My friend was recently recognized for an idea she had to open up the large garage storage doors, and keep the main entrance closed, to help direct traffic more efficiently. She thought of this because of her unique perspective as an individual with mobility issues. Years ago when she was visiting the university, the accessible door of the main entrance was broken so they needed to use the garage storage entrance to allow her in. She knew this was an accessible entrance point and she also knew that it was large enough to allow thousands of fans to enter more quickly and securely. This example is why there is an opportunity for job seekers with disabilities to share their unique perspectives and creative problem solving skills to potential employers.

Q: For people with visible disabilities, what can they do to fight bias in the hiring process?

Cross: People with visible disabilities will face bias in the hiring process, plain and simple. To lessen the negative impact, it’s important for a job seeker to focus on what they can do and draw attention away from what they may not be able to do in the workplace. For example, a job seeker with a disability that impacts their mobility should focus on how they accomplish work activities by communicating effectively with others and using technology, and shift away from talking about the possible challenge of getting around in the office.

Related: A Guide for Entry-Level Job Seekers to Combat Bias

Q: For people with non-visible disabilities, when would it be reasonable or necessary to disclose?

Cross: This is a tricky question because disclosing too early could unknowingly introduce bias from recruiters and hiring managers, however, disclosing too late may limit your ability to show how you can perform the duties of the job with a reasonable accommodation. If a non-visible disability will limit your ability to complete essential job functions without an accommodation, I recommend disclosing and requesting the use of said accommodation. Also, if you volunteer this information, the employer may see you as a confident and competent applicant. On the flip side, if they are made aware of a disability later in the process, they may feel as though the applicant was hiding information, which would be especially true if they found out on their own somehow. I personally recommend disclosing as soon as you are comfortable doing so in the process and when you’ve built a relationship with someone from the organization.

Dan Cross, Talent Acquisition Strategy ManagerAbout Dan Cross: (PHR, SHRM-CP, CSM) is the Talent Acquisition Strategy Manager for Capital One’s Retail & Direct Bank. He is particularly passionate about two things – basketball and talent. Unfortunately, Dan was never drafted into the National Basketball Association (NBA), so he embraced a career in Recruiting/HR instead. Driven by data, Dan challenges conventional People practices through the use of analytics, human-centered design, and agile methodologies. Dan was also recently named to the “30 under 30 HR Professionals” list in SHRM’s HR Magazine.

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