By Jim Hasse
“Almost half of all working-age people with disabilities in America today are employed,” writes Elisabeth (Harney) Sanders-Park, president of WorkNet Solutions, Riverside, CA. (See http://www.worknetsolutions.com/)
“That’s nearly 20 million people, and you can join them,” she adds. “Employers will choose you, if you can prove you can solve a problem, make them money or help them be more successful. But, you must prove that your disability will not become their problem.”
And, she asserts, “For every barrier you have, there is someone who has faced it, overcome it, and is working today.”
And, here are a couple of figures about the economy Sanders-Park cites in “The 6 Reasons Why You’ll Get the Job” (Prentice Hall Press, 2010), a book for job seekers which she co-authored with Debra Angel MacDougall: (See http://www.amazon.com/Reasons-Youll-Get-Job---Whether/dp/0735204764/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1280511219&sr=1-1)
- Despite high unemployment numbers during the worse period of what is now the Great Recession (January 2009), more than four million people got jobs and one million jobs were unfilled in the U.S.
Sanders-Park and MacDougall also wrote “No One Is Unemployable: Creative Solutions for Overcoming Barriers to Employment” (WorkNet Training Services, 1997), a book for career counselors hailed as "Top 10 Career Book of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times. (See http://www.amazon.com/One-Unemployable-Solutions-Overcoming-Employment/dp/0965705706/ref=pd_sim_b_1)
Neither book is about disabilities per se, but they both include sections specifically for jobseekers with disabilities. I first became acquainted with Sanders-Park’s “No One Is Unemployable” book as a Global Career Development Facilitator student in 2005 and met her at the 2011 Careers Conference, Center on Education and Work, University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was a presenter.
Here are my disability-slanted “takeaways” from her 2011 Careers Conference presentation and “The 6 Reasons Why You’ll Get the Job,” which she co-authored.
Sanders-Park says, to a land a job in any economy, you need to take these four steps:
- Clarify your job target by pinpointing the available opportunities.
- Prove you can do the job by showcasing your attributes, skills and values.
- Avoid getting screened out so you can make it to the second interview by using keywords throughout the hiring process that show you’re a good match with the employer’s stated needs.
- Get in front of the people who have the power to hire you by using networking strategies (either in person or through social media) that will help you tap the hidden (unpublished) job market.
To tap the hidden job market, today’s jobseeker does not need to be involved over the whole range of social media that are available in the current online environment. A more effective networking strategy may be to select one medium that best meets your needs, hone your profile on that medium and then ride with it, learning the “ins” and “outs” of that particular community.
As a jobseeker, I’ve found that LinkedIn or Twitter (or a combination of the two, using Twitter to search for open jobs and using LinkedIn to build relationships with individuals working in targeted companies) can be the best avenue.
But, let’s look at point number 3 (above) more closely. As a jobseeker with a disability, someone on staff who is not the final decision maker can easily screen you out early on in the hiring process either automatically by a computer program or manually.
To avoid be screened out before the second interview, you need to develop a workable strategy that best fits your situation -- a strategy which will give you an opportunity, as Sanders-Park puts it, to “show your skills are more valuable than your perceived ‘costs’ (in terms of accommodations etc.).” In other words, you need to reduce the employer’s perceived risk in hiring you.
Specifically, if you have a disability, she suggests:
- Targeting jobs you are fully qualified to do with your particular disability.
- Structuring your job search so employers see your value before they notice your disability.
- Deciding whether and how to disclose your disability.
- Avoiding words and imagery that could intensify employer concerns. For instance, I use “some difficulty in muscle control” instead of “cerebral palsy” in describing my unusual condition, since “cerebral palsy” can conjure up images about me that can go way beyond reality.
- Reducing your prospective employer’s perceived risk by presenting solutions for “resources that will help me be more productive” (more preferable, Sanders-Park writes, than “accommodations”) so the employer can refocus on your abilities.
- But, that’s only part of the process of getting hired.
In “The 6 Reasons Why You’ll Get the Job,” Sanders-Park details, from an employer’s perspective, these six transferable skills she says you need to illustrate in concrete terms in order to land a job (or be perceived as promotable, if that is your goal):
- Appropriate presentation
- Do you look, sound and act like the employer?
- Will you represent the employer in a positive way?
- Matching attitude
- Do you fit the company culture?
- What’s your outlook on work?
- Do you show flexibility and respect others?
- Dependability record
- Will you work for the company’s best interests?
- Will you be loyal to the company?
- Personal motivation
- Will you help the company achieve its goals and carry out its mission?
- Are you demonstrating that you’ll mirror the company’s values?
- Basic trainability
- How well will you apply your abilities to the job at hand?
- Can you learn and adopt?
- Can you produce results quickly?
- Valuable network
- Do you have access to key people who will benefit the company?
- Will your online contacts reflect positively on the company?
The candidate who is hired for a particular job usually stands out in all six areas, Sanders-Park maintains -- and, (this is especially important if you are a jobseeker with a disability) those six areas need to outweigh any perceived risks the employer may have about hiring you.
To further tip that benefit-risk balance in your favor, offer proof that you can meet the employer’s needs in a positive way. Tell a story that is not more than 60 seconds long which shows you acting positively in a work situation. Your story needs to demonstrate that you have the attributes the employer values. Your story should include numbers or percentages to quantify your accomplishment.
In other words, show what the employer will specifically gain by selecting you for the job.
Sanders-Park even suggests networking with someone in your targeted company’s HR department or a present employee via LinkedIn or by telephone to further clarify what the employer values in an employee. You’re then in a position to show and tell about how you match those needed skills throughout the hiring process.
Copyright © 2013. Hasse Communication Counseling. 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 hardcover 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 CP youngsters.