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On Being a Disabled Jobseeker

Updated on September 15, 2016
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Disabled and looking for a new job?

If you have a disability (many health conditions are labelled as a ‘disability’ these days) and have recently found yourself unemployed, you’re most likely in the thick of searching for your next job.

I do know the see-saw of doubt, confusion and emotion you’re experiencing because I wear the 'disabled' label too. I'm not here to motivate or inspire, I know you see through all that. I'm just here to share a tactic that I made use of.


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It's about you!

I bet you know you're good at doing what you do, and you know you have the respect of former colleagues, and the appreciation of your peers. Heaven knows you probably have your ‘champions’, and maybe even your own 'mutual admiration' society.

Quite honestly I never thought of myself as disabled, until around two years ago. I have a neurological condition, which is incurable, and progressive - and I acknowledge that this article speaks more to people with 'almost invisible' disabilities. Right now I am in the 'second' stage, which has limited my ability to walk,and I simply won't be doing those long walks any more it seems. But that's a whole other story.

Anyway. Briefly ... while my medical issues were still 'invisible' I confessed my neurological condition to my employer. Result: Despite still being physically able, and competent in my role, I became a victim of blatant disability discrimination and lost the job I'd been in and built my way to, for over 15 years. Got another job two months later, until that employer encountered financial difficulty and staff were laid off – which left me with the uncomfortable feeling of not ‘belonging’ any more.

Finding myself unemployed yet again I happened to be passing a recruitment agency, for the disabled, and on walking (yes, walking) in saw a list of 'disabilities' - and lo and behold it seemed I was disabled. On being confronted with the 'disabled' label, I began after quite some years, proudly wearing it. Crazy how it took all those years to realise I was disabled - at the very least I was on my way to disabled land. And strangely, it was a relief to finally take ownership of the label. Who'd've thought huh?

While an achievement, I have to admit that wearing the disabled label brings with it a certain discomfort, and quite simply ... along with the rest of society, limits your belief in yourself.

So, having done a lot of thinking and doing what I could to stay motivated, I got to changing my jobsearch tactics - with some success - and I figured others might find those ideas useful, so here goes …

Having spent the first weeks unsuccessfully applying for jobs that I knew I could do standing on my head (ok, I couldn't ever stand on my head, but if I could ... well you know how it is), it dawned on me that this whole situation should be about ME, not some company I didn’t know much, if anything, about.

So I decided to be fussy. Who cared if I had a disability?! I AM worthwhile, and I AM good at what I do! So I took control, after all, it was ME sitting in the driver's seat, all I had to do was steer in the right direction didn’t I? I didn’t want to work in some job that I didn’t care about. I wanted to be interested, and more than that I wanted to be able to contribute, to feel at the end of every day that I’d achieved something, or at least that I’d definitely helped somebody in some way.

Sound familiar?

Who deserves you?

Ultimately, at the end of the day, ‘any job’ is NOT better than ‘no job’. Truly.

I switched my thinking, from ‘I hope they choose me’ to ‘who deserves me?’ And you can do it too, turn it around, look at it as though you are searching for your perfect employer - and not the other way round. This type of thinking puts YOU in control and can do wonders for your confidence when you get to that interview.

So why not change your job search tactics? Give thought to what you want to do - what are you interested in? Or, what could you be interested in? What do you want to learn? What are you good at?

Throw all thoughts of your disability aside, you know that you don’t want to be judged by what you CAN’T do - and you’re applying for work that you CAN do aren’t you?! So focus on securing the job that ‘fits’ you and what you’re ‘about’, where you’ll be working with like-minded people.

I believe there ARE steps that will lead you to an interview, and I share those here:

Focus focus focus

Firstly, think about what you enjoy doing, focus on what you’re good at. Think about which industries need your skills and experience, what type of industry you’d be a benefit to, and what you want to do within that industry, think about the role you want to play and have ability for.

Then, when you apply for advertised positions choose only jobs that interest you, jobs that are a fit for your abilities as well as your interests, and rework your resume for each application, plus ensure your cover letter is relevant to the job.

If an opportunity arises, find out about the company through a simple internet search, what is their mission? Is it in tune with your interests?

Phone the company if you have a contact name and number, ask about the role they are wanting to fill, what will the new employee’s main focus be? In other words, do what you can to check that the job truly is a good fit for you. Even if you don’t manage to speak to the person who’ll be doing the interviews you should come away with a much better idea of the role. And yes, if you want, divulge your interest and your disability status - I know full well that divulging your disability can be difficult, but this could be a good time to mention it, perhaps there are other staff employed who have a disability?

Armed with extra information or not, relate your resume to the job, now that you’re applying for jobs that you know you have the skills for, and will genuinely ‘add value’ to, it’s even more important to highlight relevant experience and skills on the first page of your resume – employers can be bombarded with job applications and will make the decision to read further in the first few seconds, so put relevant information in the top section of the first page of your resume where it can’t be missed.

No. 1 tip – the cover letter - stop being so formal, write as if you are writing to someone you’re about to meet, think of your cover letter as your introduction, but do use correct grammar, and check your spelling.

But speak your truth. Be yourself. If the employer can get a ‘feel’ for the type of person you are, it certainly can influence the decision to interview.

By targeting these more suitable jobs not only will the process of applying for jobs become easier, you’ll be giving yourself a much better chance of being called for interview. Makes sense doesn’t it?

It worked for me, I achieved interviews, it took a little while but not too long and I found a job I enjoyed. And yes, having a positive attitude is a good start ...

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... and now you're on your way!

So that’s it, apply only for jobs you know you’ll enjoy and where you will genuinely be able to contribute. At interview you’ll feel much more relaxed because you will know you are suited to the role on offer, and you will be able to speak with confidence of your abilities. At the risk of sounding harsh, stop wasting your time applying for ‘anything’, because as you’ve probably already discovered, chances are you won’t get anywhere with those jobs (and that applies to everybody).

You may be unemployed, but so are many others in today’s economic climate. It’s a simple fact that the business world is struggling, and yes there is a lot of competition, but by applying for the job that ‘fits’ you will be in the right ‘zone’ and competing against others that are applying for ‘anything’ – so you’ll be in front already – quite simply, you know what you’re good at, you’ve probably gathered a lot of experience, and have a lot to give, so anticipate success!

Disabled? Pffft. Your perfect job is out there, and you can have it, end of story.

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