Interview protocol question, too weird for Ask A Manager
August 18, 2019 4:55 PM   Subscribe

Interview with a former employer on the horizon, and wondering if/how to broach a mental health diagnosis that has happened since we last worked together. Difficulty: the diagnosis was a godsend and has made me a way better employee.

I worked for a former employer for nearly a decade. They were generally a great place to work, but I had kind of fallen into a rut, and when they (a) hired a new VP whose methodology I disliked and (b) physically moved office space, doubling my commute, I found another job elsewhere and politely gave my resignation. Four years later (yesterday), while perusing job ads, I found a position advertised with the same company, working directly under a former coworker who I'm still friendly with. I reached out, we chatted, and now we're scheduled to have a more formal talk this week.

Here's where it gets a little weird. Two years ago, in my mid-30's, I was diagnosed with ADHD, and started therapy/medication for it. There are no words for what a difference those two things have made for me, both personally and professionally. All of a sudden, I'm focused, I'm hyper-vigilant, I'm able to multitask, and generally I've felt like I've been absolutely crushing it at work. Objectively, I'd say I'm approximately 200% more of a resource than at any other previous point in my career. Things that used to take me weeks are now possible in hours, and I've used the extra bandwidth to proactively fix a bunch of higher-level stuff at my current employer. That seems like the sort of thing that would be good to say about myself, when talking about my bona fides. At the same time, I worked directly with the person I'm now interviewing with, and (to my knowledge) he didn't have any complaints about the worker I was then, even in my undiagnosed state.

So my question is: do I bring this up? It's sort of a liability because of how mental health is treated in the US, but it's also kind of a great success story: I was a middling software developer, then I got treated for a life-long affliction, and now I'm a WAY BETTER developer, who can build and advocate for all sorts of cool stuff at the same company where I used to just keep my head down and get the work done.

What say you, MetaFilter? Talk about how much better I am at my job than I was four years ago, or avoid the stigma and trust that I wouldn't have this interview if the hiring manager wasn't happy with my output before I was diagnosed?
posted by Mayor West to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's probable you can skip all the reasons why, and if pressed, just attribute it "to a improvement in methodology" or something

But definitely cute the really good work you've been doing. That kind of proactive stuff is candy for hiring managers
posted by Jacen at 5:04 PM on August 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

I was a middling software developer, then I got treated for a life-long affliction, and now I'm a WAY BETTER developer

First of all, yay for getting ADHD treatment and sorting your life out! As a new-and-improved developer, your shiny new standards of accomplishment should be evident from your resume, your personal projects, your GitHub account, all that kind of stuff. Make sure all of that is well documented and that you can show off your new successes.

Why you're now more consistently awesome isn't all that important to anyone but you and your prescribing doctor. Employers understand that people fall into a rut after a decade, and a benign explanation is that moving to a different employer forced you to revisit how you approach your work and you figured out a way to get to a state of creative flow. That said creative flow may involve a scheduled medication and/or time spent in a psychologist's office isn't interview material.
posted by blerghamot at 5:07 PM on August 18, 2019 [19 favorites]

Agreed that you should bring up your improvement but don't go into how it happened.

"A few years ago I changed how I looked at the work I was doing and everything just clicked in a way it hadn't earlier. Now I'm a WAY BETTER developer who can build and advocate..."
posted by kimberussell at 6:35 PM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

AAM commenters (and Alison) are usually pretty savvy about ADD and other neurodiversity questions. So this question would probably be ok over there. However, I do think there is a higher proportion of software devs here than there!
posted by matildaben at 6:55 PM on August 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also, considering your timeline, it sounds like previous employer was one that you started working at in your early-mid 20s? There's a pretty reasonable expectation that you would continue to learn and grow in your career from your early 20s to your mid-30s, or even from your late 20s to now, so there may not be any real need to explain your improved productivity.
posted by blerghamot at 7:09 PM on August 18, 2019 [4 favorites]

I am firmly in team Do Not Disclose Disability During Interview. Hiring people can’t lefally use/cite it as a reason for not hiring. That doesn’t stop them. Misunderstanding about invisible disability abounds.

Your work has improved. It’s none of their business how or why. Interviewer is unlikely to ask. If they do you can cite increased mindfulness, better process control, whatever other cognitive tools you’ve learned about since diagnosis.
posted by bilabial at 7:20 PM on August 18, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think people are missing this is a person they know. And are friendly with. I think telling them concretely why you’re now able to harness that incredibly quick brain would be good.

Because you know them and are friendly. Do it professionally, but they totally know you may have dragged your feet on things or been unable to focus. Be positive and affirmative and kick ass on the work you’re doing now, but I do not think saying “methodology” is good. This person would be your boss, right?
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:32 PM on August 18, 2019

I have ADHD. I would not recommend disclosing to an employer, even a friendly one. OP, If they had reservations about your previous performance they wouldn't be interviewing you in the first place. Don't volunteer stuff like this when you don't have to.
Just wow them with your performance. Let the work speak for itself.

And "friendly" is not the same as "trusted friend." This is an employer we're talking about, bound by the American disabilities act if in the United States. Even a friendly boss might not want to deal with the potential of the hassle you might create by requesting accommodations youd be legally entitled to
posted by shaademaan at 9:15 PM on August 18, 2019 [9 favorites]

I would probably not disclose, because if they already liked your work, it might lead them to second-guess the validity of your diagnosis, do you really "need" the meds, etc. I have been part of several discussions along those lines in SW and adjacent communities ("performance enhancing drugs", etc) and would not personally want to disclose here.

So, I would just say that you're amazed looking back at how much you've grown and improved since you were working with them before, perhaps with examples (or just "tasks that used to really trip me up have become much easier and I've found myself able to solve additional problems" that kind of thing). If you want to be an advocate for better and diagnosis and identification of ADD, do it after you have the job!
posted by Lady Li at 11:24 PM on August 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't. I might site how changing environments allowed for tyou to gain skills and experience that led to improvements in method, organization and speed, and that you've always loved company A and would like to bring what you learned back.
posted by AlexiaSky at 2:19 AM on August 19, 2019

Generally, if you are not seeking accommodation, and are otherwise fine, keep the diagnosis to yourself. You don’t know how the information would be used. Talk about your achievements and mention if your references might speak directly to recent improvements. Yes, you know them, but this is a business. Save the conversation for several months after you’ve been hired, and even then, be careful. People don’t show their biases like they wear a shirt. And you might not be in the room when it comes up. Best if if it’s a need to know context.
posted by childofTethys at 4:02 AM on August 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

But definitely cute the really good work you've been doing.

I am sorry to derail the thread with a language question, but as a person obsessed with cuteness I'm curious to know if Jacen's usage of cute (i.e. as a verb) is commonplace.
posted by Morpeth at 4:35 AM on August 19, 2019

But definitely cute the really good work you've been doing.

I am sorry to derail the thread with a language question, but as a person obsessed with cuteness I'm curious to know if Jacen's usage of cute (i.e. as a verb) is commonplace.

I read that as a typo for cite.
posted by Pax at 5:13 AM on August 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

I reached out, we chatted, and now we're scheduled to have a more formal talk this week.

You resigned. You were not fired. Now you're about to have a conversation with a former colleague. Speaking as someone with ADHD, I would not say a word. Some folks upthread are correct; volunteering about your diagnosis just means the normies may view everything you ever do/did through that lens.

I like the script above from kimberussell or you can say something similar such as, "I have been surprised by how much more I enjoy programming now as well as how much better I have become since we last worked together. I have a deeper appreciation for the craft/am more engaged/whatever."

Other people are never as focused on/aware of what other individuals are going through as the individuals themselves. You included. So don't overshare, and good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 9:57 AM on August 19, 2019

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