With recruiting events, networking, interview prep, travel, it’s important to recognize that navigating recruiting with learning disabilities, physical disabilities, chronic illnesses, and mental health challenges can also bring about unique challenges and stressors.

The good news is that resources are available to help, and there are alumni who are willing to share their stories and advice. We are grateful to our alumni with diverse abilities who, based on their own lived experiences, are offering four critical pieces of guidance to current students to help them manage the recruiting process and thrive in their roles after HBS.

Disclose When You're Ready

A common question from students is how, when, and if to disclose diverse abilities, particularly those that are not visible. There is no right or wrong answer, but as our alumni share, seeking out the resources you need to be successful is key.

Both Triston Francis (MBA 2019) and Aaron Mitchell (MBA 2011) chose not to disclose learning disabilities in the recruiting process because they were concerned employers may not understand the implications and misjudge their abilities. “I was nervous because I had this new diagnosis (ADHD) but if I say that out loud maybe they won't want me because they'll just assume that I'm not smart enough or not capable enough,” shares Mitchell.

However, Francis and Mitchell have found over time that disclosing their diverse abilities aided their success on the job and in future interviews. A year into his first post-HBS role at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Francis spoke with his manager about occasionally requiring extra turnaround time for certain tasks as a result of his Dyslexia. In response, BCG paired Francis with a coach and matched him with project leaders known to be exceptional people developers.

Looking back, Francis shares, “I really wish I didn't wait a year retrospectively, but I wasn’t comfortable sharing this during the recruiting process. Once I was within the organization though, I definitely think it would have been advantageous for me to get some of the support sooner rather than later.” Now if Francis is being considered for a new role, he often chooses to disclose his Dyslexia during the interview process, a decision that stems from the positive experiences he has had to date and in choosing roles he knows are ideally suited for his skills.

Mitchell echoes these thoughts. “My personal experience was that there was a lot of fear and apprehension keeping it to myself, but finally once I said it out loud, I found out almost everybody had some relationship with ADHD and most people were willing to offer reasonable accommodations.”

Reflecting on her own experience and in her work with students as an HBS coach, Meredith Hamilton (MBA 2008) shared “I think it is appropriate to wait until you have an offer in hand before disclosing and then say something like ‘I’m super excited about this opportunity and want to make sure I understand the expected pace of the work, the flexibility of the schedule, availability of physical accommodations, etc.’ This is a point where you can say, 'These are the things I need to be successful, how might those show up in this opportunity.'”

As Hamilton also notes, keep in mind that the choice regarding when and with whom you discuss your diverse abilities is yours alone. “You don’t owe anyone an explanation for who you are.”

Find Your People

Another key theme for HBS alumni living and working with diverse abilities is finding community to support you through your recruiting process and beyond.

Living with Bipolar Disorder and ADHD, Hamilton knew that managing both her hypomanic and depressive episodes would be important, especially during recruiting, to ensure she could both slow herself down to clearly articulate her skills in interviews but also to simply arrive on time when her energy was low.

“One of things I worked really hard on was being able to identify my own signs of struggle [and communicate that to others]. This way I could tell close friends at HBS, ‘If you see or hear me do this, please remind me that this is something I’ve self-identified as a sign my mood might be dysregulated so you wanted to check in and see how I’m doing.’” Having people around her who understand the pressures of recruiting and could offer support was critical to her success.

Francis also recommends seeking out mentors who share your diverse abilities to build your support network. After disclosing his neurodiversity, Francis connected with a Managing Director at BCG who also had Dyslexia and through that conversation he felt more confident about the opportunities that lay ahead.

“He told me, ‘Look this was really difficult for me as a consultant, somewhat difficult for me as a as a project leader, a bit difficult as a principal, as a partner it started to get a bit easier, and now as a Managing Director it barely matters.’” This conversation inspired Francis to continue building the muscle of talking with his colleagues about disabilities in a constructive way.

Seek Out the Right Environment For You

Alumni also emphasized the importance of finding a work environment in which you’ll thrive.

To identify those environments, Mitchell recommends students go on the company’s website before an interview to learn if the organization has a Diverse Abilities ERG and then asking about the ERG’s work in the interview setting. He also suggests asking interviewers the question “How does your team or group deal with differences?” and reflecting on the response. If the interviewer asks follow up questions about types of differences and gives examples that showcase cultural competency and a thoughtfulness toward accessibility and accommodations, it’s a positive sign that there could be person/environment fit.

For Hamilton, she knew that she worked best in a structured environment and the Leadership Fellows Program provided the perfect amount of structure post-HBS. Both Citizen Schools and the Leadership Fellows Program offered clear guidance on the expected cadence of the work and when to expect periods of high pressure or long hours. With clear expectations, she felt more prepared to navigate the role as a professional with diverse abilities.

Seeking out opportunities for remote work has been key for Jonathan O’Grady (MBA 2005) in his job searches after HBS. “In the summer of my first year, I did an internship at Goldman Sachs and I had to be at my desk at 6:00 a.m. When you're in a wheelchair, things just take so much longer, so I was getting up at 3:45 a.m. to be at my desk [on time]. I did that for the summer but decided after that that it just wasn't feasible.”

Reflecting back, O’Grady noted that he realizes now the company likely would have been very receptive to requests for accommodations, but he didn’t ask at the time. Now, he finds that the work environment he has set up in his home with voice recognition software and accessible facilities works very well for him and allows him to do his best work. Being intentional about identifying the right environment and making that a priority has been key to his success and job satisfaction.

Have Confidence in Your Abilities

Identifying resources and supports are critical throughout the recruiting process, but there is also one piece of advice that alumni all shared in different ways, best summed up by O’Grady.

“If I could go back and speak to myself, I would say have confidence in in your ability and know they've asked you there for a reason.”

Your talents, skills, and all of your abilities make you the professional you are today and will continue to shape the professional you will be in the future. Own your unique value, advocate for what you need, and continue to pave the way for those HBS students watching and learning from your journey.