How To Tell Your Boss When You Need Something Out Of The Ordinary

I've been in the recruiting industry for more than a decade now. And as the CEO of a company I co-founded, I have the freedom to excuse myself from 1:15-2:15 p.m. every Friday to attend Jumu'ah — a weekly congregational prayer service for the Muslim community. However, it wasn't always so simple.

When I was hired at my first job in the industry years ago, I explained to my manager that I would need to be excused for a non-traditional lunch hour on Fridays. Of course, after running it up the ladder, I was granted permission to attend Jumu'ah so as not to create any religious discrimination issues. Nonetheless, my manager took me aside afterwards and plainly stated that he would not have hired me had he known about my unique situation in advance.

Reflecting on this experience, there are countless other scenarios in which qualified candidates experience roadblocks or at least anxiety in their job search because of unique situations that might cause them to complete their duties outside the realm of a hiring manager's expectation.

I am speaking about the kinds of job applicants whose faith might dictate fashion choices (headscarves, saris) that don't fit into an established uniform, or who need to leave early on Fridays to observe the Sabbath, or who have physical handicaps that require special attention during the workday — all factors that likely have nothing to do with a candidate's ability to do a job effectively but that still might cause alarm bells to go off in the mind of a prospective employer.

And while these issues are of little consequence to the average job seeker, they can be extremely stressful for candidates that can't compromise certain lifestyle choices or restrictions for a new gig, eliciting a series of difficult issues that candidates grapple with before meeting a hiring authority.

For example, do these candidates tell the person interviewing them that they can't shake hands with someone of the opposite sex? Do they mention that a headscarf is part of their everyday attire? That they must leave before sunset every Friday? That they can't undertake certain physical tasks? And if there is an appropriate time to address these issues, when?

The bottom line is that if any of the above-mentioned lifestyle choices/restrictions apply to you (and, of course, there are countless others that I did not reference), it is important to know how to navigate these waters to maximise the likelihood of a placement. Here are a few tips.

Don't explain why you'd make a tough hire

The most important advice I can give to others in these circumstances is simply to treat job interviews exactly as anyone else would treat them. In other words, there is no reason to focus on or even bring up any limitations one might have. Obviously, if they arise in conversation then it would be unwise to lie, but focus on your virtues and make no indication that any of your characteristics would stand in the way of your success in the role in question.

Naturally, it's important to research the job spec and make sure that's actually the case. For example, if one can never work weekends, then even the most capable candidates probably wouldn't thrive in a role that regularly schedules employees for Friday and Saturday.

However, in those gray-area cases in which candidates need only slightly bend established rules to make the job work for them (such as delaying lunch for an hour in my example, which had no effect on my ability to be an effective account manager), there is no reason to sell oneself short by telling your prospective employer all the reasons you'd make a tough hire.

At the end of the day, if you don't make any unique lifestyle choices or limitations a big deal, it will make it easier for the interviewer to judge you on your skills and merits alone. Then, once you've been determined to be a good technical and cultural fit for a role, hiring managers will likely have more reason to look past those issues (after all, highly sought after skills trump all else) instead of potentially clouding their judgment from the get go that you have special circumstances that may be burdensome to the company.

Stay optimistic

Always be positive, even if others try to make you feel otherwise. Truly positive people are the ones who remain optimistic in the face of adversity, and those who buy into the negative assumption that their unique circumstances will hold them back often end up becoming the ones who don't even try. After all, had I allowed myself to believe that attending Jumu'ah — a service I've always held dear — would prevent me from achieving my career goals, I wouldn't be writing here today. So get inspired, be yourself, and never let your personal choices or physical characteristics prevent you from pursuing your professional dreams.

Of course, once a candidate who is subject to unique circumstances accepts an offer, there is a series of other issues to navigate. For example…

When do you tell your employer about any special needs you may have?

While it may not be the best idea for candidates to bring up any of their unique needs during the early stages of the interview process, once they start in a new position it will be necessary to explain these situations to a manager so they can be accommodated. And when considering when to do this, new hires will want to explain their special circumstances quickly lest they come up and catch management by surprise (you don't want to be the man or woman who leaves early on Friday for the Sabbath without anyone understanding why).

As such, the orientation period that generally occurs in a new hire's first week is a great time to explain to a manager that a modest amount of flexibility will be necessary to accommodate certain physical limitations or religious practices. But, when having this conversation, it is always wise to have creative alternatives in mind. For example, if it is necessary that a new hire must leave early or for a period of time during the work day, express willingness to late or come in on a Sunday. This will hopefully convey to the manager in question that the hire doesn't expect special treatment and is willing to go the extra mile to accommodate those unique needs.

What if your manager or co-worker doesn't take kindly to your unique circumstance?

The point I'm trying to convey here is that with open and honest communication coupled with creative solutions, there should be no reason why open-minded colleagues would take issue with a new hire who needs a bit more flexibility in his/her job. However, in the case that any co-workers don't take kindly to these needs, it is important to know one's rights.

Australia has various anti-discrimination and equal opportunity acts that make it unlawful to discriminate based on religious beliefs (or age, parental status, race, political belief and more).

So with that in mind, talk to the company's HR rep, know your rights, arm yourself with creative solutions, and there should be no reason whatsoever that any unique lifestyle choices or physical limitations should hold qualified candidates back in the job force.

Murshed Chowdhury is the CEO of specialised IT staffing firm Infusive Solutions-– an NYC-based member of the Microsoft Partner Network that focuses on the placement of Windows systems engingeers, developers, desktop support, and SharePoint professionals.

Image remixed from v.s.anandhakrishna and Viorel Sima (Shutterstock).

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Comments

    So basically just hide everything, then when you've got the job just spring it on the employer and hope they are afraid of religious or racial discrimination and let you do it. Then at the very end you even go as far as to quote legislation on the topic.

    I'm sorry but that sounds very unethical.

      Everyone owns their own private information, the vast majority of which has little to nothing to do with work. Where this information may or may not benefit the individual, it is to their discretion to share or maintain privacy as and when they see fit, if at all. Often, disclosure represents a significant personal disadvantage to an individual, information can be used to inform decisions about the individual in informal ways, which may or may not be covered with selected reasons for the discrimination.

      Unethical is when a company or manager wants to enforce full personal disclosure on individuals, simply because that individual is employed to do a job.

      Please be aware that there are legal requirements on employees to meet staff needs, employers are obligated to provide them, should a staff member make this apparent at any stage. To avoid suffering workplace prejudice, it is often the best tactic for an individual to wait until the employment has commenced or has otherwise been formalize (eg, past probationary periods) in order to guarantee that the employer meet their legal obligations.

      This is completely ethical.

        No, it's deceptive. Plain and simple. I wouldn't hire someone if I knew they wanted to take every Friday afternoon off, for any reason. BUT - by hiding it he then makes it difficult to dispose of the worker due to concerns about discrimination.

        I don't know where you learnt ethics - that's clearly not the right thing to do.

          Actually, you couldn't refuse to hire them if they needed to time off for religious observances. It's called discrimination. Trying to 'dispose of the worker' after the fact would be actual discrimination, not a 'concern'. You've also made the case for not revealing it prior to being offered the job, although on balance they'd probably be better off not getting a job with you.

          Any employer worth their salt hires the most skilled and talented worker for the job, regardless of their special needs. They also consider workplace diversity, given the benefits to team problem solving and to servicing different markets.

          I have a team that is largely women working part time. Because they have limited work hours, they tend to focus on getting things done. Surprisingly, they are also often more flexible with their work hours when they can be, and support each other when they have unexpected absences. Best and most effective team I've ever worked with, bar none, despite unplanned absences with sick kids and the need for school holiday leave.

          Bottom line - staff with special needs often give more than they get, because they recognise there are a lot of employers like you out there that won't give them a fair go, and want to keep their job with an employer that will offer them flexibility.

    This might be fine if your position doesn't depend or isn't dependant on others in the workplace, but take the example of something like an assembly line: you can't just have people coming and going as they please, trading lunch hours around or refusing to work at certain times. It'd be a disaster.

    I also agree with Battl3bear: concealing something like a disability or religious practice until you're hired then essentially extorting your demands using legislation seems incredibly unethical. You've given them exactly zero choice in granting your demands (and let's be honest, at that point it is a demand). Furthermore, you've probably just succeeded in cultivating resentment from your new employer.

    «Obviously, if they arise in conversation then it would be unwise to lie…»

    The writer is not advocating lying, but rather that you focus on the skills and experience you bring to the job and which would make you a great hire, and don't dwell on things that are irrelevant.

    Now if the special requirement is in fact very relevant then we're looking at a different scenario, and the discussion there might be whether the person is looking for employment in the right field.

    For example, if I'm interviewing someone and in the course of that interview I explain* that the job involves attending an evening event on most Fridays of the year, and that person had to observe a sabbath that began at Friday sunset, then that person would be well advised to disclose this fact. As a result, I (and the candidate!) would probably decide that the job wasn't for them, regardless of their other strengths.

    (*Actually, that would surely be in the advertised job description.)

    But if, in my example, the job doesn't have any specific Friday evening obligations, then there's no impact on the person's ability to do the job. If, on hiring, they explain their religious need to observe a Friday sundown sabbath then I would simply be expecting that they make up the time by coming in earlier that day or working later on other days of the week. (My industry is such that this would cause no difficulty. YMMV) I wouldn't feel resentful or as if I'd been "sprung", so long as the person had been honest in the interview about any requirement that *might affect their ability to fulfil all aspects of the role*.

    And it would seem to me that such a person would hardly be seeking to carve out a career in a realm that, say, required Friday night event attendance. (Function and event-based PR would be one plausible example.)

      Obviously, if they arise in conversation then it would be unwise to lie…

      Can job interviewers even ask people about religious practices? I thought religion was generally a topic interviewers should steer-clear of. Seems unlikely the fact you need to pray on Friday arvo, or need to begin observing the sabbath at sunset would just "come up" in an interview, and no interviweer is going to say "Oh you look like you belong to X religious group, do you need to observe any religious traditions which might impact on your work?"

      It just seems dishonest to wait until your hired then try to negotiate your terms. You know your employer is forbidden by law to discriminate against you regardless of the difficult situation it might put them in.

        You wouldn't ask about their religion or religious practices. But you *would* discuss (and I'd hope advertise) the requirements of the job.

        So in my example I'd make a point in the interview of reiterating the Friday night event attendance requirement and ask the candidate to confirm that they could fulfil this part of the role. That's the cue for them to explain their sabbath practices and for me to reasonably decide to choose someone else. If they lie and *then* tell me after they're hired that they can't work Friday nights, then there would be grounds for terminating (same as if they lied on a CV).

    Which company are you CEO of? Just want to make a mental note so I never place a requisition with you.

    As a hiring manager, this has got to be some of the dumbest advice to a new hire I have heard in a long time. A complete relationship wrecker with your new boss. It's great advice for a recruitment company as they get their fee for placement, but the hire won't be there too long!

      Indeed. And you wouldn't want a reference from them. Your boss will tell your next one about your deception.

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