Is it a good idea to talk about ADD in a cover letter?
September 12, 2012 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Is it a good idea to address newly diagnosed ADD (with effective treatment) in a cover letter?

He is a CPA, applying for jobs in public accounting and in the private sector as a financial analyst. Smart, articulate and very honest. His concern is that there are holes in his knowledge base, and he wants to be able to ask for help when he needs it. He doesn't want to sell himself as being perfect and then have to go back against that when he needs help on the job.

Here is the time line-
Finished Grad school with Masters
Had job for 2 years, laid off (bad economy, but later found out partly due to low billable hours)
Looked for job for 12 months, Finished CPA
Had second job for 2 years, fired due to scattered work in April
Recently diagnosed with ADD, on a life changing medication.

Should he address the two jobs that lasted only two years?
Should he acknowledge the ADD and explain how much better things are?
Does addressing the two 2 year jobs as a function of the ADD help more than it will hurt?
How much weight does HR put on the two 2 year job pattern?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
No, absolutely not. There's nothing in this job history requiring excuses, and there's no way you should volunteer medical information (unless your attorney tells you otherwise, I would say).
posted by facetious at 10:57 AM on September 12, 2012 [25 favorites]

How much weight does HR put on the two 2 year job pattern?

Not nearly as much weight as you would think. If it had been two months, it might be indicative, but two years is unremarkable.
posted by Etrigan at 10:59 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

No, disclosing a medical condition is practically a guarantee that the resume and cover letter will be immediately thrown out. The potential fallout from interviewing and then not hiring someone who has disclosed a medical condition is an enormous pain in the ass.
posted by griphus at 11:00 AM on September 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

No. No, no, no. Do not do this.

Do not disclose a medical condition or its treatment it in a cover letter and do not address it in the interview, for the reason griphus cites.

Cover letters are for summarizing why you are a good fit for a position, not why you are or are not perfect. In the interview, you can discuss the holes in your knowledge base, but only if those topics come up in conversation.

2 years in a job is pretty typical, anyway. The gap in employment can be explained by finishing the CPA certification. Do not mention the reasons for the recent firing, either - you were "not a good fit with the organization".
posted by bedhead at 11:02 AM on September 12, 2012

(Also, if you're faced with two completely identical candidates, but one has informed you that they have a condition that can affect their job performance, you're going to go with the one that didn't.)
posted by griphus at 11:03 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Absolutely not! Medical stuff is not appropriate in a cover letter or on a resume. It should never come up at all in a work situation.

The jobs are fine. Everyone job hops now, it's the new normal.

No one expects any applicant to know 100% of everything. Be honest and truthful in the interview. When discussing new projects with my managers I always add, "I reserve to right to ask questions about stuff."

Where does everyone get the idea that they have to know everything to get a job?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:04 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Horrible idea and a red flag in terms of social interaction 101 knowledge
posted by MangyCarface at 11:06 AM on September 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

Jesus, no.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 11:10 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, no, no.

Speaking as someone with ADD, who has discussed it with helpful bosses and STILL never used the words "ADD" or "medication" or "treatment" or any variants thereof, diagnosis and treatment means nothing.

What matters to an employer is how well you function in the job you have. Untreated, someone with ADD may be head and shoulders above other people, regardless of issues. Treated, someone else may still be far below the expectations. Everything is personal and a matter of fit between the particular individual involved, the job, and the colleagues.
posted by Madamina at 11:11 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

His concern is that there are holes in his knowledge base, and he wants to be able to ask for help when he needs it. He doesn't want to sell himself as being perfect and then have to go back against that when he needs help on the job.

Everyone has gaps in their knowledge, and everyone tries to sell themselves as perfect during the interview process, because that's how the process works. It's expected that applicants will put their best foot forward.
posted by ook at 11:14 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

i actually teach business writing, including cover letters. The short answer: ABSOLUTELY NOT.

The long answer: Cover letters and resumes should ONLY showcase positive aspects of one's employment history and skill set. in terms of "setting himself up to be perfect." He has to keep in mind that all resumes and cover letters exaggerate (not lie, just exaggerate). It's expected. Kind of like bluffing in poker. If a person doesn't present themselves as the best candidate, I'm going to toss their letter and move onto the next one.

I agree with MangyCarface that even asking this question is a pretty big red flag for me in terms of the person's ability to interview successfully. I would highly recommend he go to the local bookstore and sit down with a set of books on interviewing as well as resume and cover letter writing. Skimming a couple of those basic books will probably really help as well as eliminate some of his anxiety about applying for jobs.

I'm not sure about where he got his degree, but lots of places offer services to their graduates to help get jobs including resume and cover letter help. I would definitely look into that.
posted by miss-lapin at 11:21 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Definitely no to mentioning the ADD in any way. That's sort of like enclosing a photo of you being 6 months pregnant with your CV (or mentioning that in the cover letter) - a definite turnoff to potential employers, a "hey by the way, there would be drawbacks to hiring me".

Regarding the knowledge base, he also needs to practice responding to the question "what are your biggest weaknesses?" (standard interview Q) with an answer that doesn't sound as bad as "I have gaps in my knowledge base and I will need help with them." That is of course true and totally appropriate, but it just sounds bad when you say it that way. Part of showing that you're a good candidate is finessing answers like that, for example "Although I have years of practical experience, there are always more things I could learn about this field, and I relish the opportunity to expand my knowledge base while working for your company."
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:24 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

No way! Really, there's nothing to be gained and much to be lost.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:25 AM on September 12, 2012

p.s. the one time I interviewed a person and she answered the "weakness" question with a true character flaw, we almost jettisoned her app based on that alone, not so much because of the flaw itself, but that she wasn't sophisticated enough to finesse a good answer to the question instead of saying something regrettable. However, she was able to come back later with a better answer to the question, and her persistence and other skills eventually did win her the job.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:29 AM on September 12, 2012 [5 favorites]

sorry for the triple post but I wanted to add -- the way employers expect to find out about flaws in the job candidate is through checking their references. Since it sounds like your friend has 2/3 jobs where it sounds like he was fired due to problems with his work habits, he should focus on how to do damage control on his references (for example, using a midlevel boss who he got along with well instead of a higher up executive who didn't like him) - just being aware though that if he does not have any references from a relatively recent job, that would probably be spotted as a red flag.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 11:34 AM on September 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

N-thing everyone in an emphatic NOOOOOOO!, but adding this: the ADD does not concern me so much as the thought process which would lead someone to believe that this would be in ANY way acceptable. With all due respect to the person in question, it is SUCH a catastrophically awful idea - the corporate/job-hunting equivalent of asking, "Hey, would it be okay if I climbed into a public fountain and washed my sweaty testes?" - that it makes me fear for the person's ability to navigate this particular sphere of life. Methinks that maybe some very rudimentary, fundamental "basics of job hunting", "basics of not disclosing Too Much Information", etc. might be invaluable to this person. AskMe has (hopefully!) averted this particular catastrophe, but if this guy/gal thought THIS was a good idea, god only knows what OTHER "bright" ideas they might devise.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:13 PM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I agree with everyone above.

I have an anecdote, too: I quite clearly (from the looks on the panel members' faces) lost a job during the interview when I answered a "weakness" question with something that pretty clearly showed signs of one of my diagnoses (I wouldn't be shocked if the interviewers walked away with the idea I was on the autism spectrum, actually.) People want to be sympathetic and accommodating to the mentally ill - but they don't want to buy trouble, and that's how they will see hiring someone with any diagnosis, even one as "light" as ADHD. The fact that it led to actual workplace difficulties moves this straight into "why the heck would you ever bring that up" territory.

The interview and cover letter and resume is when you're on your best behavior; the only time you ever disclose any bad information at all is if you can't pull the interview/whatever off without the accommodation. Then, and only then, you tell them you have a medical condition and ask for the specific accommodation, and give them exactly what extra info they need. If you can manage to get the job, the disclosure thing becomes a whole new ball game. Even then, it stays in HR to the greatest extent you can possibly manage.

I agree with everyone above who said this is such a bad idea it makes me question what other terrible ideas he may have. Please have your friend read up on psychiatric disclosure in the workplace more broadly. He would also do well to participate in a support group for people with similar kinds of issues, who've been in the professional world longer.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 1:15 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Was he "fired" (i.e. for-cause), or "let go"? Most people work in at-will states now.

Definitely not in the cover letter, and if/when it comes to the "Have you even been fired from a previous job due to blah blah?" questions, his answer is at most "Yes, due to issues relating to a medical condition now under the care and supervision of medical personnel." He does not need to share details, especially as it is now under control.
posted by bookdragoness at 1:56 PM on September 12, 2012

Pretty much never disclose health/psych information to employers unless necessary.
posted by rhizome at 4:50 PM on September 12, 2012

Joining the chorus of NOOOOOOO!

This is the kind of thing to mention only after a job offer has been extended and accepted, and even then the general guideline is that it's best to avoid telling one's employer what the specific diagnosis is. With luck the person's doctor will have some familiarity with writing letters to support requests for reasonable accommodation, and will write something non-detailed, along the lines of
Mr./Ms. [Name] is under my care for a medical condition and may require accommodations, including [list a few here: sometimes leaving early/arriving late for healthcare appointments, a quiet area in which to work, or whatever is reasonable]. If you have questions, I can be reached at [doctor's contact information].
posted by Lexica at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2012

God, no.
posted by Miko at 7:35 PM on September 12, 2012

I would not even do as Lexica suggests. Just get the job and do the job. If you see a modification you'd need, bring it up then in a 1:1 boss meeting. If not, do your job. If someone brings an issue up to you that's caused by ADD, bring it up then in a 1:1 boss meeting. Please don't disclose this when there's absolutely no need to. Chances are he will do fine in the job and no one will be aware of a condition.
posted by Miko at 7:37 PM on September 12, 2012

posted by dgeiser13 at 7:45 AM on September 13, 2012

Miko: "I would not even do as Lexica suggests."

Just to be clear, that was by no means a suggestion to preemptively announce the matter. What I meant was that even if it gets to the point where it becomes a choice between requesting accommodations or getting penalized for bad performance, it's not advisable to give any more details than are necessary. You need to leave early one day a week for therapy? The letter from your doctor says only that you need to leave early, not why. Etc.
posted by Lexica at 9:23 PM on September 13, 2012

At the point it will impact your performance, yes. I thought you were suggesting doing that right after hire, which would be not a great way to start off.
posted by Miko at 5:45 AM on September 14, 2012

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