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FAQ: How to get your first job — tips for people with disabilities

By Tara Drinks

Your first job search can be exciting — and intimidating.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, job seekers are feeling more worried than usual. And if you’re wondering how to get your first job when you have a disability, you probably have extra questions. Concerns about accommodations, disclosure, and inclusion are common no matter what the job market looks like.

It’s an issue that career development centers are working through in real time. So to get some tips, we reached out to Kevin Varela and Darren Gregory from Florida International University’s Career and Talent Development team. 

Here are their answers to some of the most frequently asked questions from first-time job seekers with disabilities. 

1. What should I look for in an employer?

Gregory suggests that people with disabilities can start by looking for the basics.

“One of the things I look for is accessibility, because I’m in a wheelchair myself,” he says. “You want to make sure it’s an environment that you’ll feel comfortable working in.”

Check out the company’s track record when it comes to leadership and diversity. Seek insider perspectives from current and past employees on websites like Glassdoor or LinkedIn.

“This will help you to make sure that their public representation is accurate,” says Varela. “It will also give you a different perspective than the statements companies tend to put out.” 

2. Do I have to tell the employer about my disability?

Think about your preferences when it comes to communicating about your disability with potential employers. Whether, when, and how to bring it up with an employer is up to you.

“By law, you do not have to disclose your disability,” says Varela. If your disability will be obvious to the employer, you can still choose not to discuss it.

But many job seekers do decide to bring up their disability during the hiring process. One reason to do so might be to ask for accommodations. For example, a job seeker might specify that the employer will need to provide an accessible interview location. Or an interviewee might choose to disclose their disability after an offer is made, so they can ask about future accommodations.

3. What are some interview question ideas for first-time job seekers with disabilities?

For many people with disabilities, an inclusive workplace is a top priority. And the interview can be a good opportunity to learn about a potential employer’s approach.

“I think of an interview as not only a chance for them to interview me, but a chance for me to interview them,” says Gregory.

You can ask directly about their approach to inclusion — that will help you to get an idea. But a truly inclusive workplace should have the results to back it up. 

Here are some interview questions to consider:

  • How do you support employees with disabilities?

  • Do you track statistics on retention rates and career progression across various demographics? Which ones?

  • How do you compare to others in your industry when it comes to diversity and inclusion?

If the interviewer doesn’t have the answer to a question right away, they should be able to follow up with you later. 

4. What are some “red flags” that first-time job seekers should look out for? 

You’re probably doing as much as possible to make sure you’re prepared for your interviews. But first-time job seekers often forget that employers need to prepare as well. A company that hasn’t done that work might not offer a very inclusive environment.

“I pay very close attention to the language people use during an interview,” says Gregory. “This typically shows whether or not that company is inclusive enough in their thought process to even prepare for the interview.” If an employer doesn’t know the basics of disability etiquette, that’s probably a red flag.

Another thing to watch for? An employer who’s hesitant or unsure about providing an accommodation. 

Ideally, an employer will be proactive in asking whether you need any accommodations throughout the interview process. But even if that’s not the case, they should make the process easy for you once you make a request.

5. How will the coronavirus pandemic affect my job search?

As a first-time job seeker, don’t be surprised if your job search takes longer than you expect. That’s especially true because of the job losses caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gregory suggests that first-time job seekers try to keep networking, learn as much as possible about the industry, and stay on top of trends. That will help to keep your job applications fresh and up-to-date, even if your search ends up being longer than it would have been without the pandemic. 

“Keep your mind sharp,” he says, “and keep yourself aware of what’s going on around you” in terms of new opportunities.

The pandemic has made first-time job searches especially hard right now. But the more knowledge you bring to your search, the better. 

“It’s important to find allies and people that can be advocates for you” along the way, says Gregory. “But it’s even more important to first be an advocate for yourself.”

Tara Drinks is an associate editor at Understood.


Looking for more advice on how to get your first job? Check out these ideas from Hanna Taluy, who’s recently been through the process herself.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom