Tag Archives: Organization

Experience with a disability is sometimes the best experience

Talking about real-life, hands-on experience. I ran across a job listing on Indeed.com that called for someone who has “Lived experience with mental health issues and treatment.” An organization in eastern Massachusetts says this experience is strongly preferred. For the first time, I am impressed with an organization’s willingness to openly hire a person with a disability—in fact, require it.


I’m not ignorant to the fact that organizations employ people with disabilities; I just haven’t seen a job ad that highly suggests that candidates must have a disability.

Before I became a workshop facilitator at an urban career center, I was its Disability Program Coordinator where I helped people with disabilities re-enter the labor market. So I’m familiar with the struggles this population faces in getting past the stereotypes of being disabled, physically, mentally, or both.

Never did I see an organization actively seek people with mental illnesses. Hell, it was hard identifying those organizations who would entertain the idea. This is the main reason why I found job development so frustrating; too hard getting past the gatekeepers who showed their disapproval like a billboard when you asked if they needed someone with qualifications…who happened to have a disability.

It is a known fact that many substance abuse counselors are in recovery themselves. This gives them a better idea of what people with substance abuse issues are enduring and allows them to speak about recovery more accurately.

Sometimes the best cops are the ones who grew up “on the streets,” because they know the environment and behavior of the criminals they’re trying to apprehend. Real-life experience is the best teacher in my mind.

So I was encouraged to see this ad that calls for a person with real-life experience to assist a defined population. Doesn’t it make sense that the people who understand others with disabilities, substance abuse, and criminal backgrounds help or otherwise interact with them?

More to the point, this organization opens up opportunities for people who may be victimized by discrimination because of their disability. Instead they welcome candidates to share their knowledge and expertise with the less fortunate.

I recall one assistant director of a Department of Mental Health clubhouse proudly exclaim that he suffered from bi-polar disorder. He happened to be a great advocate of people with mental illness. Incidentally, he became a director of another DMH clubhouse.

Should employers who serves those with mental illness be the only ones to hire people with this type of real-life experience? Hell no. A brilliant psychologist who worked for the Department of Mental Health told me something I’ll never forget, which was that the best medicine for someone suffering from mental illness is work.

Photo: Flickr, Ryan Baker

The 8 lessons to learn from the job search

Job seeker climing stairsBefore you even send out your résumé.

If there’s anyone who’s tired of hearing, “The job search is a full time job,” it’s me. This cliché is as worn out as my favorite pair of jeans. So I’m proposing a different saying: “The job search is like going to school.” Why? Because going to school implies learning something, whereas a full time job can mean a whole slew of things.

Remember school where your intellect was challenged, where you studied hard and debated harder, where you looked forward to your next round table lesson on Jung and King Lear? Or the challenging material you tackled in Embedded Computing in Engineering Design? It was good stuff.

The lessons of the job search are of a different nature but are important in their own regard. The following eight lessons I propose you must learn before sending out your résumé.

Lesson One: It sucks losing your job. This is the first lesson you learn from the job search. And how well you handle this it will determine your success. Let me advise you to allow yourself a period of suffering, no less than three days, no more than two weeks*. It’s not clear if everyone goes through the five stages of grief in the same order, or if you’ll even experience all five stages of grief, which are.

  1. Denial and Isolation
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

For example, you may skip denial and isolation, bargaining, or depression. I would personally call depression a bit strong; I prefer despondency. My point being is that no two people handle the emotional aspect of the job loss the same.

Lesson Two: Know what you want to do before acting. Picture saying to your kids and wife/husband that the whole family is going on a trip, and they ask, “Where?” Your response is “I don’t know.” Your family members won’t have faith in your planning ability. This lesson is important because without knowing what you want to do—where you’re going on your trip—you’ll be spinning your wheels. You’ll lack direction and be totally ineffective.

So when job seekers tell me they’re not sure what they want to do, I tell them until they know what they want to do, all the dandy advice they’ve been receiving is a waste of time. There are numerous career tests and personality assessments you can take that gauge your interests, skills, and values, but I’m a firm believer in also searching your soul for what you want to do.

Lesson Three: Determine how much time you’ll dedicate to your search. I’ll ask my workshop attendees how many hours they worked at their last job. Forty? Forty plus? Many will raise their hand when I say forty plus, just as I thought. Then I ask them if they need to dedicate forty plus hours to their job search. Most of them raise their hand. (Remember the cliché, “The job search is a full time joby?”)

I tell my attendees that I disagree with spending forty plus hours a week looking for work. In my mind, looking smarter is better than looking harder. One story I tell them is of a person I knew years ago who was out of work. How he told me his family life was suffering because he was spending 60 + hours on the job search. Follow the following lessons in order to be smart in your job search.

Lesson Four: Be organized. I remember when I was out of work and receiving a call from a company I didn’t recognize sending my resume to. At first I tried to buy time until I finally had to ask the caller which company she was calling from.

To say this was an embarrassing conversation is an understatement. If your strength is not organization, it must become one of yours quickly. The job search requires being organized so you don’t receive phone calls from companies you don’t recognize. Trust me, it can be embarrassing.

Read this excellent article from Quint Careers on Ten Sure Fire Ways to Organize Your Job Search. My valued connection, Katharine Hansen, provides valuable lessons on being organized in the job search. Check them out.

Lesson Five: Let people know you’re looking for work. This seems like the most obvious lesson, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t let their friends, neighbors, convenience store owner, hair stylist, etc., know they’re out of work. How can these people help you if the don’t know.

I remember years ago when one of my customers came to my office just before Christmas. I asked him what his plans were and he told me his family was hosting the dinner. Great I replied. But what he said threw me for a loop. “It’s going to be weird. No one knows I’m out of work,” he replied. Family and friends can be your best allies.

Lesson Six: Futility 101. Anyone who thinks sending out 600 résumés will result in 300 interviews and 30 job offers probably also believes the sun revolves around the earth. Despite the many blog posts, books, and speakers who say using job boards as the primary method of looking for work is a waste of time; many job seekers still do this.

Six hundred is not a number I drew out of a hat. I recall reading on LinkedIn about a person who was seeking career advice and was bewildered that she hadn’t received one interview. Yes, she had mailed out 600 résumés and waited for the phone to ring.

Lesson Seven: Do your research. Remember when you were in school and had to do research to write papers? Now your research is even more important. So instead of “shotgunning” résumés, research the companies for which you’d like to work. Develop a list of 20 or so companies and determine where there’s growth by going to their websites. For companies showing growth, send approach letters asking to meet with someone at the company for an informational meeting.

Key points: Don’t ask for a job during the informational meetings. Instead ask illuminating questions that create a vibrant conversation, a conversation that will secure an important connection. Who knows, maybe there is a job developing at the company. You might be recommended to the hiring manager if you’re able to impress your new connection.

Lesson Eight: Connect with others. Whether you want to attend networking events or prefer to focus on connecting in the community, make sure you’re identifying people who can be of assistance. LinkedIn’s Companies feature has proved to be a great tool for this, but simply making inquiries can work as well.

One of my customers came to me one day and said, “Bob, I found a job!” Great I told him. “Yeah, but I didn’t network,” he told me. “No, I handed my résumé to my neighbor; he handed it to the hiring manager in the department I wanted to work; I was called in for an interview; and I got the job.” Connecting works in many ways.

Having completed all the lessons above, now it’s time to send your résumé to companies you’ve identified as the ones you’d like to work for. Next we’ll look at the remaining lessons of the job search.