2002 Conference Proceedings

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2002 Table of Contents


JOB DEVELOPMENT AND CAREER ADVANCEMENT FOR PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES

Manny Ziegler
Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled
MannyDMC@aol.com 

Dolores Kollmer
Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled
DoloresDMC@aol.com

WHO ARE WE?

We are both job developers/employment specialists with Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled. Dayle McIntosh Center for the Disabled has been helping individuals with disabilities find employment since 1983. We are contracted by the State of California Department of Rehabilitation, this state's Vocational Rehabilitation Department. Our current contract covers employment services to disabled clients who are either visually impaired or have limited knowledge of the English language including Vietnamese and Spanish speaking clients.

We would be happy to respond to emails from anyone with questions or wanting more information in the future.

OVERVIEW OF PRESENTATION:

There are no magical ways to look for work, no magical things to say during an interview. We will give specific job search tips, tips to get in the door, tips to contact the right person, etc... but mainly, job seeking for persons with disabilities is about the person. In my experience, persons with disabilities have difficulty getting work because of poor presentation. This is what we'll discuss in the first half of our presentation.

FORGET THE ADA

Companies can find other reasons not to hire you, or to fire you. They are looking for a person that will learn to do the best job in the shortest amount of time at the least cost. Period.

PRESENTATION

Attitude
An ability to communicate appropriately - in writing, orally and listening. A positive attitude - "What can I do for the company?" NOT "What can the company do for me?"
Assertiveness - confident of abilities but open to new experiences and training. Willingness to ask questions.
Successfully work history - whether paid or unpaid. Willingness to go above and beyond. Unique qualifications and experiences.
Educational qualifications - competence in basic skills and abilities.
A team player - gets along with peers, supervisors, customers and subordinates. Interested in the welfare of others and the company.
An eye of the bottom line - What can I do to keep costs down, improve efficiency, increase productivity, help profitability and contribute to overall goals?
Customer service awareness and performance - a sense of urgency.
(the above "attitude" suggestions were taken from the Southern California Regional Occupational Center - Employment Preparation Packet)
Clothing
Coordinated/In-style/fashionable
Appropriate for worksite and company
Dress more conservatively than you would when actually at work
Hair, nails and hygiene (breathmints!)
Social graces
Social ability is often limited in persons with disabilities because of limited exposure to social situations - whether this is caused by overprotective parents, special schools, only socializing with other disabled persons, whatever, it needs to be corrected. Getting a job is about networking. In addition to skill, the employer is determining whether or not they can stand to be around you for 8 or 9 hours every day. You learn social skills from doing.
Example: 2 adult blind clients - one rarely leaves the house, and when he does, its with his parents. The other has an award for shooting, a brown belt in Judo, has gone on several outward bound trips, volunteers at a local mission and dates/picks up women all the time. Who do you think got a job first? The second guy got a job on his second interview, while I'm still working with the other (a year now).
You have to get out there and learn social skills. You need to get out there and start socializing for several reasons:
1. You'll meet people which is always good for networking and finding out about jobs.
2. You'll have something to talk about during an interview. Example: You are being interviewed by a person with a bowling award on their desk. If you don't socialize, all you can say is "You bowl?" If you do socialize, you may be able to say "Oh, you bowl. I'm on a league too at the ABC Bowling Alley, my friend owns it. Have you ever bowled there?"
3. You'll feel better about yourself. If you're confident in yourself, the employer is more likely to be confident in you.
4. Enroll in a class, volunteer somewhere. Look at it as an investment of time and money towards your career. It is not just for fun, it is necessary.

DISCUSSING YOUR DISABILITY

This is your choice completely. Having said that, I recommend disclosing it on the phone AFTER an interview time and date have been set (so they can't back out) or when you arrive to the interview. If your disability is obvious and something that might make the interviewer uncomfortable or shocked (blind, use a wheelchair, etc...) I suggest you disclose it on the phone so that they are prepared emotionally. Remember, the interviewer is a normal person with normal fears and a normal lack of knowledge about disabilities - if they are freaked out during the interview, they won't be able to concentrate on your skills and you won't get the job. If you warn them ahead of time, they can be more composed during the interview and actually listen to what you have to say. (Handout from The Workbook - A Self-Study Guide for Job Seekers by the Epilepsy Foundation of America)

DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO JOB SEARCHING

The Internet
Advertisements
Cold-calling

THE INTERNET

Why the Internet?
* People respond much quicker to email than to phone calls or mail.
* It's easier to get past the receptionist with email than with a phone call.
* It delays the necessity to discuss your disability until they like you or are impressed with you.
* Some companies even do their initial interviews via Internet or email.
* This gives you the opportunity to dazzle them without them being distracted thinking about how to deal with your disability.
* When they do find out about your disability, you have already answered questions like "How can s/he use the computer if s/he is blind/quadriplegic, etc..." You have answered these questions by your actions - you used the computer to contact them. You have given them the proof they need that you can do the job (or most of it) - if you had walked in with your guide dog or wheeled in to apply, you might not have gotten the opportunity to prove yourself.
* You have shown them that you have computer skills (most companies want them, but many applicants do not have them. Also, many applicants claim they do, but when hired cannot use the computer properly.
Resumes for the Internet
* Make sure you have your email address on your resume. Use a professional screen name - not BeachStud or PartyKing, etc...
* Make sure you check your email daily for responses.
* Do not list your personal website unless it has something to do with the work you do. (Noone wants to see the website you dedicated to Brad Pitt or your Aunt Wilma's wedding.)
* Have two formats of your resume prepared - one in ASCII / DOS format and one in Word 6.0 or newer.
* Make sure the Word version is nicely formatted and check your spelling on both.
* If you changed a Word document to DOS, make sure the formatting didn't get messed up in the conversion.
* Do not discuss your disability on your resume or in the email unless you are sending it to someone you are absolutely sure has first hand knowledge of working in this industry with that particular disability. For instance, you may mention your visual impairment when sending an email directly to the head of a department who himself is visually impaired, but not when sending your resume to the personnel department of a company who may or may not have visually impaired employees.
The Basics
Almost every company on the web also lists their jobs on the web. If you are interested in a particular company or industry, all you have to do is find them on the web. There are three main ways of doing this.
1) Guess their website.
Example: Boeing is at www.boeing.com
Example: UCLA is at www.ucla.edu
Extensions are as follows:
companies are at .com or .net (many new extensions are being created)
schools are at .edu
non-profits are at .org
government is at .gov (this gets tricky though because of additional state and county extensions)
2) Find them through a search engine.
Search engines:
http://www.yahoo.com 
http://www.37.com 
http://www.altavista.com 
http://www.excite.com 
there are many others.
To find a search engine specific to your industry: www.submitit.com - click on Engine List
3) Find them through an industry specific list
Example: Hollywood Creative Directory for entertainment companies. Applying for jobs listed as available If you find a job listed as available on a website, follow the instructions on how to apply.
* It is very important that you follow these directions exactly as part of the selection process involves which applicant was able to follow directions. If they request a particular format (Word, DOS, etc..) or a size font, you must adhere to these criteria. Some websites have you enter your information into their database and then paste your resume. Example: www.boeing.com
* Be certain that you complete their forms fully and use the proper formatting. For instance, when asking for dates of employment, many sites ask for the date in the following format MM/YYYY. If you simply enter 10/97 instead of 10/1997, you will either be asked to reenter the information or your application/resume will be rejected.
* Do not think that by pasting more information than necessary in the resume section (such as a cover letter), the company will be impressed. Quite to the contrary, they will be irritated and most likely reject your application. Companies use online forms for this purpose because they get hundreds of applications per week and don't have the time to read them all. By asking for specific information in specific fields, they are better able to direct your information to the proper department or store it properly in their application database.
Some websites ask you to email your resume. Some may want the resume in the body of the text (most) while some may allow you to attach your resume in a particular format. Follow directions and then wait for a response. If an email address is given for personnel, you may want to follow up with an email a few days later. Applying for jobs not listed as available.
If you are interested in a particular company, you may send them an unsolicited resume. If it is a small company, you may send it to their general email address.
* Send an email to the company. In the body of the email briefly explain that you are interested in employment with them and what type of position you would be interested in. It helps to tell them you would appreciate any ideas they may have for your job search and any referrals they might be able to give you since they are a leader in the industry (flattery never hurts, in fact people like to feel important, important enough to share their expertise and knowledge with others).
* In the body of the email tell them what format you are attaching your resume in and ask them to write you back if that format is unreadable to them so that you may send it via another format.
If it is a large company and you can do some research to get the email of particular people in the company (managers of certain departments, etc...) do so. It is unnecessary to do research to find the email address of someone in personnel, all resumes and applications will be forwarded to them anyway).
* Most companies have links on their websites that will lead you to articles written about them or by them. Read these articles to find a reference to someone in the department you are interested in. Send an email to that person and make reference to the article in which they were quoted or written about in the beginning of the body of the email. Again, let them know what format you are attaching your resume in and ask for feedback. If you approach this more like asking for advice and mentoring and less like asking for a job, you'll get much better responses.
Example: www.arthurandersen.com - click on Media Center and then choose a publication to read (in this example we chose "Senior Management Services Leadership Appointments"
* How to find their email address:
Many companies have a site that lists the email addresses of their employees or at least of particular departments. If you know how their email system works, you can guess at someone's email address. For instance. If all email is soandso@arthurandersen.com, then it is safe to guess that Tom Smith's email address there will be one of the following:
TomSmith@arthurandersen.com
SmithTom@arthurandersen.com
Tsmith@arthurandersen.com
Tom.Smith@arthurandersen.com
Smith.Tom@arthurandersen.com
You get the idea. It takes some trial and error, but once you've got the address, you'll be glad you did the research.
* If you cannot find the email address to a particular person, you can always email their department and ask for it.

ADVERTISEMENTS

Search through newspapers, job magazines, and especially industry-specific publications. Do not limit yourself by particular job titles as companies use different titles for the same position. Also, a position with a different name may involve some of the work you are looking for and some that you may not have even thought of. Most importantly, be open. Follow instructions carefully. If they tell you to call, call. If they tell you to fax, fax. If they ask that you don't call, don't call. This approach often times becomes a numbers game. Many times you don't have a phone number to follow up and all you can do is wait for a call from them. But, as with any numbers game, the more you play, the more you win. Set a regular schedule of looking through publications and faxing or sending your resume in response. Set aside a few hours a week to do this and you'll begin to get responses. We'll discuss later how to handle these responses.

COLD CALLING

Cold calling by phone is very similar to approaching companies cold via the Internet. The only difference? The receptionist. If the receptionist doesn't like you, he or she won't give you any information or put your call through to the proper person. The receptionist is often under a lot of stress. Be nice to them. Do not call when you are in a bad mood. Here are some tips:
Always introduce yourself by name and explain what you do and why you are calling. Ex: Hi, my name is Henry and I'm a computer programmer. I was wondering if you have any positions available.
Never give up. If they don't have positions open now, ask if they might in the future. Ask who handles that type of thing. If it is HR, ask to be transferred and speak to someone there. Make sure that you do not insult the receptionist by asking to speak to someone else. Explain that you just want to find out more about the types of positions that sometimes come open.
Ask if you can forward a resume anyways for future consideration. Ask who to forward it to. A day or so after faxing your resume to that person, call back and ask to speak to him/her.
Always get the receptionists' name. This will help if you have to speak to her in the future. Also, you can tell the HR person that so-and-so suggested you speak to them. It gives the impression that you know people and have clout.
If they are not hiring, ask if they know of any other companies that may be hiring or other companies in the industry/area.
Take notes on everything you talk about. Write down names and dates so you can refer back to this information when speaking with others later.
You don't know this person. They don't know you. It's okay to embarrass yourself by continuing to ask questions until they are sick of you. The idea is that you never want to have wasted your time on a phone call. Always make sure you get something out of it.

INTERVIEWING

You probably all know the basic interview questions - Tell me about yourself.; What is your greatest strength?; What is your biggest weakness?; What are your long-term goals?; Why do you want to work here?. Obviously, you should be practicing the answers to these questions and more, but your main obstacle will be discussing your disability. Remember, be open and honest and CASUAL. If you make it a big deal then it is, if you act like its not a big deal and explain why, then it isn't a big deal. Interviewers are scared to ask about your disability for legal reasons. Legally, you do not have to discuss it except for how it pertains to your ability to do your job. If you stick to these legal requirements, you probably won't get the job. Offer information. Ask the interviewer if they have questions about your disability. Make them feel comfortable. Be prepared to talk about how you developed this disability, how it affects you, how you deal with it, and be willing to show them - bring your laptop with JAWS installed, bring samples of Excel sheets you made, bring any adaptive equipment you can and demonstrate its use. If anyone may think that your disability interferes with your mobility or transportation to work, discuss it - whether asked about it or not. Make sure you have already figured out bus or train routes to work - including times. Do not say you will get a ride to work - instead say that you have already arranged carpooling if you get the job. Being open and honest will do much more towards helping you get the job you want than perfecting answers to preset interview questions. Come to terms with your disability and then help others come to terms with it. Realize that everyone has biases - even you. Try not to take it personally and don't get upset. Be understanding. If someone is closed-minded about your disability, that's their disability. That's right - ignorance is a disability. Try to help them overcome it in the most supportive and understanding way possible.

ACCOMMODATIONS

Unless you need expensive or high-tech adaptive equipment, don't discuss this. If you simply need a wrist rest for your keyboard or a pillow for your lower back or a footrest, buy it yourself and bring it in to your workstation! Everyone customizes their workstation - just don't expect the employer to pay for these minor things.

BRIEF DISCUSSION THE BENEFITS OF ACCEPTING PART-TIME, TEMPORARY AND VOLUNTEER WORK.

Go to previous article 
Go to next article 
Return to 2002 Table of Contents 
Return to Table of Proceedings


Reprinted with author(s) permission. Author(s) retain copyright.