Job Search and Workplace Success Tips for People with Disabilities

 Job Search and Workplace Success Tips for People with is pleased to provide a series of posts covering a wide range of information for people with disabilities. In this one, we have outlined general yet powerful strategies for boosting your value and reputation among hiring managers, supervisors, and co-workers.

  • Consider volunteering as a way to enhance your job readiness. If you're just entering the workforce, or re-entering it after a disability-related absence, volunteering is a great way to prepare yourself. Doing so can:

    • Increase your skills and self-confidence.
    • Provide a sense of the reasonable accommodations you may need in a work setting (if any).
    • Give you a "real-life" opportunity to practice disclosing your disability and, if applicable, requesting accommodations.
    • Allow you to "prove yourself" and build a list of references who can attest to your abilities.

  • Explore alternatives to the traditional "chronological" resume. A "functional" or combination resume format emphasizes your strengths and shifts attention away from gaps in your employment history. A future post will explore this further.

  • Hone and demonstrate the soft skills that employers desire. These include communication, professionalism, and problem-solving, among a multitude of others. Many employers are willing to provide task-oriented training, but expect their job applicants and employees to come to the table with the basic workplace skills needed across all industries and occupations. Commit yourself to acquiring, practicing, and applying these skills during your job search and in the workplace.

  • Undertake an independent job search, even if you're also working with a job coach. Certainly take advantage of the job leads that job coaches can provide, but don't limit your focus to the positions offered by companies in their "employer network." While job coaches play an important role in identifying "disability-friendly" employers, keep in mind that it would be impossible for them to develop relationships with all such employers. Carefully review job ads and company websites, and reach out to people within your own network, to learn about other employers' history and commitment to a diverse workforce, including people with disabilities. Also keep in mind that the lack of a known "track record" doesn’t mean that an employer won't be receptive to the idea of hiring an individual with a disability. It may simply mean that they haven't had the opportunity to do so, or that they don't publicize their employment practices in this area. In other words, don't rule any employer out!

  • Be practical in your employment pursuits. While you should carefully consider a full range of career opportunities, it's important to be realistic when applying for jobs. For example, if you have difficulty reading for long periods of time due to a learning disability, consider avoiding proofreader jobs that require you to spend your entire work day reviewing lengthy manuscripts. Similarly, if a psychiatric disability causes you to struggle with staying on schedule and meeting deadlines, it's wise to avoid highly time-sensitive jobs such as tax preparation. Many jobs, of course, involve some degree of reading, periodically require work to be completed within a specific timeframe, or emphasize other tasks that you might find particularly challenging. The key is to focus your job search efforts on positions in which the primary responsibilities are aligned with your strengths rather than limitations. This is useful advice for all job seekers, whether or not they have a disability.

  • Do your homework. Once you're invited to an interview, learn as much as you can about your possible need for accommodation before the meeting. Visit the building in advance to find handicapped parking spots and check for wheelchair accessibility, for example, and observe the overhead lighting as you wait in the lobby and make your way to the interview room.

  • Keep in mind that "disclosure" can occur even if you make a deliberate decision not to reveal your disability to an employer. For example:

    • Employers may be able to locate and access any personal information that has been posted on the Internet, either by you or someone else. This includes social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) published a useful guide for managing your online presence to prevent unwanted "cyber-disclosure."
    • Be sure your references know that you've chosen not to disclose your disability during the employment process. They may have the best intentions when they say, "Johnny was one of my most productive warehouse workers. You'd never even know that he has a prosthetic leg!" The employer conducting the reference check, however, may not look highly on the fact that you withheld this information – even if it has no bearing on your job performance.

  • Make a good overall impression. Actively demonstrating your commitment and productivity will cause others to view you as a valuable employee and true "peer" to your co-workers. You will be less likely perceived as someone with unfair advantages or special privileges. Here are some specific ways in which ALL job applicants and employees, not just those with disabilities, can build a positive reputation.

    • Arrive on time to job interviews, or to work if you are already employed.
    • Dress appropriately and maintain professionalism at all times.
    • Don't underestimate the importance of "likeability." Be as pleasant as possible to those with whom you interact, and avoid acting defensively or as if you had a "chip on your shoulder."
    • Work hard in your own job, and offer to help others when needed.
    • If working from home, be sure to stay connected to the workplace via email and phone, and always keep your employer apprised of your work activities and accomplishments.

  • Help your supervisors and co-workers interact effectively with you. If you have a visible disability, politely educate them on disability etiquette. If you have a psychiatric condition, ask for their support in creating a work environment that is conducive to your job performance. If you have a learning disability, explain the best way to provide information to you. Also try to determine the preferred learning and work styles of your supervisor and co-workers, and tailor your approach to their needs and wishes as much as possible. Your desired outcome, and this should be true of any employee, is to foster an atmosphere of mutual cooperation and respect.

  • Take care of yourself. Closely monitor your physical and mental well-being, and make adjustments in your personal and professional life as appropriate. Maintaining your safety and health are critical to a successful, fulfilling, and long-term job or career.

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