How to Get a Job: Part II

We received some great feedback for How to Get a Job: Part I. So without further ado, onto part II!

During your discussion the person you are interviewing may speculate about how a person with a disability could do the necessary work. Try to avoid this because the person probably has little or no knowledge of disability. You should assume responsibility and take control of the conversation by saying, “If you were to hire a person with a disability, he or she should take responsibility for knowing how to get the job done.” Then move on to the next question. Don’t get involved in guessing games about how this or that circumstance could be handled. You’re here to learn about the field, not to discuss disability. Usually potential employers will be impressed if you simply state that figuring out these details would be the responsibility of the would-be employee.

If there are loose ends–pieces of information, possible contacts, etc.–that aren’t immediately available, never leave it to a potential employer to get back to you. You should say, “I’m really hard to reach, so why don’t I call you? When would be a good time?” Try never to get yourself in the position of waiting for calls.

When you have asked your last question, get up and leave. More interviews have been ruined by staying too long than for almost any other reason. This employer is busy, and so are you, so get out as soon as you reasonably can.

Some people have suggested that this process is a bit dishonest. That is, if you disguise the fact that you’re looking for a job, isn’t that deceptive? Yes, it certainly would be deceptive, so that’s not what I am recommending. If you really don’t think you can learn anything by talking to middle managers and CEO’s, you shouldn’t conduct the interviews. I am proposing that the more information you gain the better able you will be to contribute to the field professionally and that these informational interviews are an honest process through which to educate yourself. I am also quite certain that, if you are going to get very far in any field, you need to know the people who are doing the hiring.

C. Follow your interview with a thank-you note and a résumé.  Your résumés should be crafted to address the particular job and employer. Focus on the work you have done that relates to this particular field, the problems you solved, the methods you used to solve them, and the results achieved. What jobs you have done are often of less interest in your résumé than the skills and traits you brought to the tasks. In our hamburger-flipper example, rather than talking about working full-time at McDonald’s, you might say: 2000-2002 Hamburger Flipper at McDonald’s. Reorganized grill area, which resulted in 11 percent efficiency increase. Reduced food waste by 3 percent. Was willing to work any and all shifts necessary. Received Company Award for Kitchen Cleanliness and implemented cleanliness plans throughout store, resulting in a 6 percent increase in customers.

You get the point. It’s all about not just showing what you did but the value it contributed to the organization. Employers are smart enough to know that, if you are a problem solver in one organization, you will do the same for them as well. Never mention pay rates in a résumé or if particular work was as a volunteer. It doesn’t matter and will only raise irrelevant issues.

Don’t take your résumé to the information-gathering interview. After your discussion you might find a different way to word a particular skill. Besides, sending your résumé later gives you another chance to put your name in front of the employer. If he or she liked you, that résumé will not only be on file but on his or her mind. And he or she will probably like you if you asked good questions, were interested in the answers, had done your homework about the company and field, and got the heck out of there when you were finished.

What will happen, and I can guarantee it, is that, as you interview people, you will learn lots of things about the field others may not know and increase your value to employers in the process. Your disability won’t be a major factor because you are not asking for a job; you are just collecting information. Employers hate job interviews as much as you do. You have taken the pressure off them to make a decision. In a far shorter time than by using old methods, you will have a job offer.

Is it really this simple? I and many others have found it so. I would say, though, that you need to invest time at it. Statistics show that two-thirds of job hunters spend five hours or less a week in the job search. Sorry, folks, that just won’t get the job done. You should be putting in at least twenty hours a week. You will have a four-to-one advantage over two-thirds of the people out there, and it will keep the process exciting and fun.

If you stick with it, you’re sure to make valuable contacts, learn a great deal about industries you’re interested in, and (eventually) find a job you can be proud of in a field you enjoy.

Happy Hunting!

Businessman offering a handshake to close the deal.


How to Get a Job: Part I

Successful young businesswoman giving thumbs up.

THERE may be an unemployment rate of 70 percent among people with disabilities, but my observation over the years has been that some people always seem to be working while others struggle and often give up along the way. The people who are always working use some form of the process I’ve outlined in parts I and II of the following post. For them the unemployment rate is 0 percent because they have eliminated the less productive parts of the job search and concentrated their energies on those activities most likely to yield results.

Like most of you, I started out (thirty years ago) looking for employment in all the traditional ways. I printed up résumés, had people read me the want ads (I’m blind), and went to job interviews. Job hunting was a lottery with very long odds.

I printed up résumés fifty at a time and was out knocking on doors from early morning to late afternoon. Mostly looking for a job was a series of disappointments culminating in the lucky result that with a great deal of persistence I finally found employment. I never felt particularly good about the process but didn’t know any other way to accomplish my goal.

I assumed that everybody did it that way.

Over time I discovered that, although I always seemed to get jobs, they seldom came through the job lottery of résumés and interviews with people I didn’t know. Thanks to teachers like Richard Bolles, who wrote What Color Is Your Parachute, and friends who steered me in the right directions, I’ve turned job hunting into–if not a truly pleasurable experience–at least one that regularly yields positive results.

You can do the same.

First, forget everything you’ve been taught and start over. Below is my guaranteed success formula for finding employment. The only reason it won’t work is if you don’t work it. Well, okay, there are a few caveats. The system will work faster and more fluidly if you are able to do a few things to help yourself.

First, you must know how to gather information through research and good listening skills. Second, you need to be a good conversationalist–listening more than you talk. Third, you should make a presentable appearance in your dress and social mannerisms.  Finally, and this is a big one, you need to know how to be socially pleasant–not abrasive or socially obnoxious.

1. Since one out of fifteen hundred résumés sent to an unknown employer results in a job, stop sending them out to people you haven’t spoken to unless there simply isn’t any other way to reach a specific employer.

2. Since going to job interviews with personnel departments at companies where you don’t know anyone seldom results in employment, stop that as well. If you know of job openings at a particular company, find out who the supervisor or manager is and go speak with that person. Personnel departments can seldom hire; they can only say, “No”–not what you want to hear. Most companies still allow supervisors to hire their own staff, so those are the people you want to see.

3. Since want ads are sixth or seventh on the list of ways employers use to hire, stop reading them unless you use them to help you locate companies with vacancies, but don’t bother answering the ads. There are much better ways to get hired.

The nice thing about stopping all these behaviors that seldom result in jobs is that they are typically the most dreary, frustrating, and painful parts of the job search. The reason they are dreary and painful is that they require you to prepare for a long series of nos.

Regular and frustrating rejection is the name of the game when you use traditional methods of job search. It’s hard on your self-image and, frankly, very inefficient. So now that we’ve removed the most unpleasant aspects of getting a job, what’s left? Below are the ABC’s of locating your ideal job.

A. Do your homework.

Read every article you can find about the companies you’re interested in and the field generally. If articles have been written about key people, read them as well. In other words, become conversant with the business.

Even if you want to become a hamburger flipper, you should know about the business. What are its biggest challenges? What are its rewards? What are its management issues? Tell every friend and acquaintance what you’re interested in doing.

You’ll be surprised how often they know somebody in the company or field of interest and can set you up with an informational interview. More about this technique later, but suffice it to say you should do your research–learn the jargon and other topical issues in the field. You’d be surprised at how many applicants are so interested in their own needs that they fail to do this basic research and demonstrate a true interest in what the employer is looking for.

Here are some things you should know:

* What is the broad history of the field?

* Who are its movers and shakers? What is their philosophy?

* What parts are stagnant or well defined and what parts are in flux or growth?

* Which are the local, state, national, and international organizations of influence in the field? This can include companies, professional organizations, citizens groups, universities, etc.

* What are the primary challenges currently facing the field?

* What is the working terminology of the occupation? Each field of endeavor develops its own acronyms, shorthand, and professional terminology. You need to know the language.

B. The number-one way employers hire is from people they know or referrals from trusted contacts. Your main focus should be on getting to know the people who can hire you. Another thing to remember: employers would rather hire someone who is trainable and easy to get along with than someone with all the skills necessary but who creates problems on the job. If you are armed with these facts, your goal is easy. Begin telephoning people in key positions at companies you may wish to work for. If the company has thirty or fewer employees, talk to the owner or president. If more than thirty, pick an upper-level manager.

Whatever you do, don’t go to personnel. Tell the person you want to speak to that you are conducting informational interviews and would like to meet with them to talk about their company, the field generally, its plusses and minuses, and how they themselves got into it.

You’d be surprised at how easy it is. All of us love to talk about ourselves and our companies. They will conclude that you’re bright, inquisitive, thoughtful, and likable if you prepare a good set of questions and listen carefully to the answers they give. The following question formula is a good starting point:

* What are your duties and responsibilities? How do you spend your day? How did you get started at this company (or in your profession)?

* What do you like most about your job? What do you like least? What kind of person is right for this kind of work?

* How can I learn more about this field? Are there specific trade journals I should be reading or associations I can join?

* How can I meet others in this field?

* What is the best way to get started (in this field or at this company)?

* I’m trying to get in to see people at some other organizations. Who else should I talk to?

* Can you direct me to others in your department/organization/division/company with whom you think it would be appropriate for me to talk or meet?

This should get you started.  Next week in How to Get a Job: Part II we’ll talk about how your disability should be handled and other success formulas that really work.


A Practical Definition of Disability – Who Needs It?

By Michael Bullis

Ever since I began my imersion into disability there have always been definitions.  Typically they are legal definitions which become useful when you’re trying to apply for some service or another.  Whether it be Social Security Disability Insurance or the employment provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, each law has unique and necessary definitions of disability.

As a practical matter though, I think there is a need to define disability because, by defining it, we can determine how to manage it.

Rather than annoying you with lengthy dictionary definitions for disabled, or disability, let’s just think about the word for a moment.  When you’re using a particular service on the internet you are often asked whether you want to “enable” or “disable” specific functions.  My banking site recently asked me whether I wanted to “enable” online bill-pay.  I was informed that I could “disable” the service at any time.

So, when the average person hears the word “disabled” he or she naturally and correctly thinks about things that are working or not working.

I am considered physically disabled because my eyes don’t work–I’m blind.  Somebody in a wheelchair is considered disabled because perhaps her legs don’t work, or at least don’t work in such a way as to be useful for walking long distances.

So far, so good.  I am not one who believes we should try and ignore that we are unable to use certain senses or body functions that most people take for granted.  That is what disability means–the inability to engage with senses, bodily functions, or, mental activities the way “most” people do.  And, disability, by it’s definition, is a limitation.  Disability limits or impairs ones ability to perform major life activities that one could perform “normally” without the disability.

If that is all there is to disability though, then there is little purpose for a disability movement or disability rehabilitation programs.  If what we are to do is simply accept what disability has done to our lives and move forward, limited, less capable and unable, then we should simply be greatful for society’s kindness.

But, of course, that is not what disability really means.  Beyond simply defining the physical and mental limitations that make up a particular disability, we humans have developed a series of alternative techniques to minimize or eliminate the disabling effects.  Let’s describe some alternative techniques.

A blind person can’t read print so reads Braille.  That skill is an alternative technique which overcomes the disabling effect of vision loss.

A person without legs might use a wheel chair.  Again, this is simply the use of an alternative technique to situations where legs would ordinarily be used.

We could say that to the extent that a person develops alternative techniques to do the things he or she would do “normally” without the disability, to that extent the person has “overcome” the disability.

So, regarding my blindness, my goal is to develop a series of skills and attitudes that, when taken as a whole, leave me able to accomplish the daily tasks of family, community and work life with competence.

Because I can’t see my computer screen I need an alternative way to know what it says.  So, my computer talks to me.  What’s more, it can talk at upwards of 400 words per minute.  That’s good, because, I’m a bit slower at finding things on the screen, so the extra reading speed helps make up for that slowness.

And so it goes.  Somebody with one arm must develop a series of techniques to do what he or she would do with two arms.

When put this way, disability almost sounds easy.  Determine what your set of impairments is and figure out what alternative techniques you’ll need to use to become competent at your life tasks in the home, community and at work.

Usually the process breaks down early on.  The first break down comes because the assumption is made that there simply aren’t any, or enough, alternative techniques available to mitigate the disability effectively.  For me the line would be, “I’m blind.  That means I can’t see.  That means I will never be equal to those who can see.  Most people who are blind are unemployed and I just need to accept my limitation.”

But of course, that isn’t the reality at all.  With some training in the alternative techniques of blindness–use of Braille, the cane and computers, along with a hearty dose of positive belief, I can do what I need to do.  I can raise my child, be a part of the neighborhood association, and function as the Director of the IMAGE Center with competence.  Surprisingly, blindness has little to do with any of it once I’ve learned the alternative techniques I need to have.

The challenge for the person with a disability and the professional in the disability field are surprisingly similar.  They are to identify the alternative techniques necessary for that person to become competent at home, in the community, and at work.  Each party has the parallel goal of cleaning out attitudes that interfere with the learning or development of the alternative techniques necessary.

We humans are very clever.  We’ve made a rather large mark on this planet of ours by overcoming apparent disabilities.  A case in point.  Humans can’t fly.  From the birds point of view we are limited.  We walk around on the ground, for the most part, on two legs.  This creates difficulties for us.  We can’t run away from enemies by flying up in a tree.  We can’t see long distances by getting high in the sky.  On and on it goes.  Not flying is a serious limitation which we have worked hard to overcome.

We developed the heavier than air flying machine–commonly called an airplane.  Now we fly further and faster than any bird ever could.  We took our apparent disability and found not just an alternative technique, but a superior alternative technique.

I would note however that the history of the development of the airplane was full of detractors.  People said it couldn’t be done for numerous reasons.  Science was the main argument.  Heavier than air flying machines would have to defy gravity so couldn’t possibly work.

It’s interesting that the same things happen with disabilities today.  When you become disabled the first thing people want you to do is “accept your limitations.”  As though this is somehow noble.  What they really mean is that your life of competence is over so get used to a life where people wait on you and where you do far less than before.  And, what they also mean is that there simply aren’t any, or enough, alternative techniques available that you can learn in order to become competent, so, “be realistic” is usually code for “live a less than successful life.”

Those of us who have disabilities know something far different.  We know that the techniques are out there.  We know that with some investigation we can find somebody who has solved virtually every problem we face.  What we often lack is the connection with those who have solved the problems.  We spend far too much time reinventing the wheel rather than using the wheels already developed.

We also know that it isn’t the disability that keeps us down, it’s the attitudes we and others have about it that keep us down.  I’m not suggesting we engage in pollyanna thinking that says, “Be cheerful and happy.”  I’m referring to a hard headed set of thinking skills that help us create positive solutions to disability created impairments.  This problem solving mentality is some times referred to as a positive attitude, but, the positive attitude is far too often misunderstood to mean “feeling good” rather than “thinking about solutions in a positive manner.”

So, in conclusion, far from being just a legal definition, defining disability can have a practical impact on how we move forward as individuals and as a societty.  If we understand our task as being the development of alternative techniques to overcome the impairments caused by disability, then we have a very clear mission.  And, if we understand that the mission has been shown to be accomplishable rather than impossible, we will be far more likely to find the solutions already invented and to invent ones of our own when necessary.


The Reversal

I was leaving our building the other day at Hampton Plaza and encountered a woman in the elevator who decided that I needed help.  I’m blind, so, carry a white cane and often folks decide that this must mean, without any particular factual basis, that I need help.

First she wanted to make sure I got in the elevator without problems.  She ran ahead of me and said, “The elevator is this way.” And, as I approached the door, “It’s right here.”

As the elevator headed down to the first floor I puzzled over what I might do to educate her, or cause her to at least think a bit.

I could, I suppose, invite her up to our offices and give her a thirty minute education on how to recognize when somebody needs help.  I could have spent the same thirty minutes with a complex explanation about disability and that it’s insulting to assume that people need help simply because they have a disability.

Taking a shorter tack, I could say, “You know mam, I’m blind, but that doesn’t mean I need help and you shouldn’t assume that it does.”

Experience has taught me however that the result is hurt feelings, “Well, all I was doing was trying to help.  He’s really got a chip on his shoulder.”

So, the elevator headed down and I pondered.  Finally I decided to try for a reversal of positions.

When we got out of the elevator she said, “Where are you going?  Let me help you find the door.”

I actually looked away from her during these comments, acting like I didn’t hear her.  Then I turned toward her and said, raising my hand as though to put it on her shoulder in a kindly way, but not actually coming anywhere near her or her shoulder, “Ma’am, can I help you find something in our building.”

She stopped in her tracks and one could feel her wheels turning.  She became speechless.  Finally natural politeness took over and she said, “No thanks. I‘m fine.”

I smiled and wished her a good day, walking ahead of her and out the door.

The point of this story is to say, next time you’re in a situation where somebody makes the assumption that the “dis” in the word disability is what defines you, you won’t have time for a training session on disability etiquette, so, try the reversal technique.  We’ll have more of these in future blogs.

Oh, and, if you aren’t a person with a disability, please understand that we aren’t putting down your efforts to help us, but, most of the time, let us ask first.

Michael Bullis is the Executive Director of The IMAGE Center.