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Ask the Headhunter: Should I mention autism on my resume?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: My son is a college graduate on the autism spectrum. Should he hint at his disability on his resume? Interviewers are surprised when they first meet him and the interview goes south.

Nick Corcodilos: A resume — for anyone, not just for a person with a disability — is an insufficient representation of who they are and what they can do. It’s a poor “marketing tool” no matter how well it is written. I’ll tell you what I say even to top executives with stellar credentials: Your resume cannot defend you.

What do I mean by that? Every resume raises more questions and concerns than it can possibly answer. A manager reading a resume thinks thoughts we cannot imagine or anticipate. So, trusting that dopey document to get us a job interview is not prudent.

If your son discloses that he’s autistic on his resume, we cannot predict the outcome. An employer might make the worst assumptions and ignore him altogether. Or, they may bring him in so they can check off a box on their Equal Opportunity report, without hiring him. Of course, it could also lead to a hire, if the employer genuinely believes in staffing diversity. Many large corporations have begun to actively recruit workers on the autism spectrum. But it’s hard to guess, and you shouldn’t try.

What your son should do is maximize his chances of getting a job interview by getting referred and recommended by someone the employer trusts.

My guess is there are jobs where your son would perform well, even if he requires some accommodation. (For more information about accommodations, read this report: “Employees with Asperger Syndrome“.)

WATCH: Why is job opportunity still lagging for people with disabilities?

A young man approached me after a presentation I did recently and raised the same question you have. He quietly disclosed that he’s on the autism spectrum. Through conversation I quickly learned that he is articulate, friendly, smart, self-motivated, relaxed and focused. His social skills are good. While I could see signs of autism, I also saw the kind of enthusiasm and acumen I’d want in a job candidate.

We discussed his work skills in some detail — he’s an accountant — and I learned enough that I’d gladly recommend him to an employer for a job interview.

Likewise, by getting referred to such employers through a personal connection, disclosure of your son’s autism would be done in a frank but supportive way.

For example, “John is on the autism spectrum, but I can vouch that for the job you’re trying to fill, he’d be great. I give him my personal endorsement.”

That breaks down the wall like no resume can. It eliminates the surprise factor. Someone the employer trusts is disclosing the disability, but in a useful context that emphasizes John can do the work and would make a good employee. Whether a job applicant has a disability or not, this is what any good employer wants to know first and foremost. It’s what leads to job interviews and job offers.

When something on a resume surprises an employer, it often leads to automatic rejection. Likewise, you don’t want an interviewer to be surprised. You want them to know exactly who they’re about to meet — someone that a trusted contact has endorsed and recommended.

So my advice is, don’t rely on a resume that cannot possibly defend or advocate for your son. Only someone who can personally recommend him can or will do that. I know it’s hard work to line that up, but this is the exact same advice I teach to executives at the top Executive MBA schools, including Wharton, Cornell, Northwestern, UCLA, Harvard and Rutgers. No one can afford to rely on a Word document to “get them in the door,” whether they’ve got autism or not.

Please don’t assume that lining up a good personal recommendation is a daunting task. It requires work and effort, but it’s the critical first step toward landing a new job. You might find the suggestions in this article a good start: “Ask The Headhunter In A Nutshell: The short course.”

Discrimination in hiring is illegal. If your son believes an employer has violated the law, he should consult a good employment attorney. But his goal should be to find an employer whose goal is to hire good workers — and mine is to offer advice that will help your son get past obstacles that might keep him away from employers who’d love to fill a job with a good applicant.

I wish your son the best.

Dear Readers: If you have a disability, how do you manage your job search to avoid bias and rejection? What advice would you give this reader?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2018 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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