By Jim Hasse
On average, there are now an estimated 11 well-qualified candidates for every available job opening in the U.S., according to William Arruda, who is a personal brand strategist, speaker and author.
So, how do you get an entry-level job that's right for you in the face of all that competition, especially when you also have a disability? Here’s one strategy: Uncover mainstream work situations which offer reduced competition from other jobseekers.
Debra L. Angel and Elizabeth E. Harney, authors of "No One is Unemployable: Creative Solutions for Overcoming Barriers to Employment," advise those of us with disabilities to seek opportunities within the most receptive environments for developing our careers.
This strategy involves finding situations which offer reduced competition from just-as-qualified, non-disabled candidates. Pursuing that strategy, according to the authors, will increase the likelihood that you'll land an entry-level job that is right for you.
In other words, Angel and Harney write, choose the most receptive environment for developing a career. That insight is not an ivory-tower theory. It’s based on bed-rock experiences.
During the last decade, I’ve noticed a range of comments and recommendations from employed persons with a disability which basically echo what Angel and Harney are saying: "Be flexible in where you look for a job."
Specifically, what does that strategy (if you agree that it has at least some application to your situation) mean to you in terms of deciding which job search tactics to use? Here are some options, generated by the observations I’ve been collecting during the last 13 years from individuals with a disability who are successfully working in the mainstream work world.
First, concentrate your job search within the hidden job market where 80 percent of the available jobs become available but only become known to 20 percent of the jobseekers because they hear about them through personal networking.
For example, KH, who apparently helps individuals who are visually impaired manage their careers, recommends:
"Network with as many people as possible when looking for a job, even if you don't think they can be of any help to you. You never know. That individual might be able to put you in contact with an employer."
Second, avoid industries and jobs where your particular disability can be a major real -- or perceived -- barrier.
A self-described "empowered" individual, I.V., offers this insight:
"If you want to work within a certain distance from your home and are not successful, you might want to expand the territory... You may also need to have some flexibility in the type of job you are looking to get."
Third, be resourceful in locating companies which are already familiar with the value of employees who have as disability. Visit with the HR directors of large companies to find out if they currently employ people with disabilities and ask what types of jobs they hold. You can easily do this research through LinkedIn.
Here are two other ideas for pinpointing high-potential employers who hire individuals with disabilities:
Skip job fairs with a broad disability focus. Instead, search for job fairs specifically for job candidates with your specific disability (from M.A.).
Compile a list of companies (with people to contact) which have expressed an interest in hiring individual with disabilities as interns -- such as you’ll find here on GettingHired.com (from D.L.).
Fourth, consider positioning your job search as a research project. A barrier to one employer may not be a barrier to another.
So, identifying the employer's perception of various barriers occurs throughout the job search process as you approach new employers. For each prospective employer, try to turn a perceived barrier he or she sees in you into a selling point for why you should be hired.
If a specific employer is not receptive to you as a job candidate because of your disability, move on. There are other opportunities waiting.
K.B., for example, is apparently a college student and has a good grasp about negotiating accommodations with receptive employers. It's a two-way street, K.B. writes, adding:
"Be up-front with people about what you need. For example, inform your employer about what kinds of accommodations you will need to access a computer and get to and from work.
"However, you really need to be willing to make compromises. You might prefer to get to work using regular city transit. (But), your employer might want you work after the transit has shut down for the day. If this occurs, you might need to resort to an alternative form of transportation such as a cab or lift service.”
Fifth, remember that companies are in business to make money. If you can prove that you can make the company money (in exchange for being paid as an employee), your disability will likely be ignored as a perceived barrier.
Here's J.L.'s comment, which shows an understanding of how to create win-win situations in employee-employer relationships:
"I volunteered as an accountant for a non-profit and discovered a way to save $5,000 a year in delivery services. I used that example to get my current cost accounting job for a cheese processing firm.”
Sixth, consider creating your own job function and marketing it to the right company. That involves showing a hiring manager how you can fill a specific need within an organization or company -- a function he or she hasn't thought about before but makes business sense because what you are offering to do for pay is to help that individual ease a pain or attain a gain.
M.B.'s comment pinpoints a prerequisite for creating your own job within an organization or company:
"Make yourself an expert in an area where experts are needed. If you are an expert and if you are needed, then you will have a much easier time."
In fact, you could block out a 30-, 60- and 90-day plan in a four-page memo about how you would approach your newly created job and bring that memo to discuss during your first interview. In presenting it to your prospective supervisor, you could state, “I’m confident that I can carry out this plan for you during a three-month period. Here’s what you could gain by hiring me to do that work.”
Avoid the Crowd
Approaching your job search from both a research and marketing perspective in niche industries and off-the beaten-path geographical areas enables you to change the way you look for your best employment opportunities at this stage in your career. You gain flexibility. You gain freedom.
It helps you rise above fellow jobseekers who may be just as qualified as you are but lack the savvy or willingness to effectively market themselves outside the most competitive geographical areas of the U.S. You’re not competing in an over-crowded arena.
Copyright © 2013. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.
Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), (www.jimhasse.com) has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both job seekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (www.perfectlyable.com/), a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (www.lighthouse.org/), New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse’s forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (forum.perfectlyable.com). He’s the founder of www.cerebral-palsy-career-builders.com, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy.