The Essentials of an Effective Job Search for Disabled Workers

by Tony Coelho | March 10, 2009

  • My Vault
As a new student at Loyola University in Los Angeles, I looked forward to a bright future. Like everyone, I dreamed about how I might best make my mark on society. During my senior year, I heard a calling to the priesthood and upon graduation applied for admission to a Jesuit seminary. I was to find out during a routine physical examination that I had epilepsy, a diagnosis that in my case came as a relief after several years of unexplained seizures.

But I soon learned that the cross I was destined to wear would be the stigma of disability, rather than the crucifix of a priest. The first blow was my expulsion from the seminary. Even in our day, there were those who believed epileptics are possessed by the devil. After that, I knocked on door after door looking for a job but was turned away everywhere I applied. Eventually, I found my niche in politics, then in the business world.

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act, discrimination in employment on the basis of disability is now illegal. Still, we have a long way to go in eradicating the myths, stereotypes, and misconceptions about disability. Americans with disabilities, 54 million strong, demonstrate tireless initiative and perseverance every single day in circumventing barriers in our society.People with disabilities often ask my advice about how to find their way in today's competitive market. Conducting a job search can be a daunting experience for anyone. The first step, to identify positions that match one's own qualifications and interests. The real job is to sell yourself as the best person for the position.

Whether you are looking for a first job, returning to the workforce or seeking advancement, the challenges are surprisingly similar. If you are job hunting, I recommend that you adopt the following 12-point plan:

1. Know thyself.Develop a strong sense of who you are. Take stock of your assets and then work out a plan for marketing them to prospective employers. Create a personal plan for both vertical and lateral growth opportunities. Focus on accomplishing something each day that will help you to reach your goals.

~2. Commit to growth and change.Follow job trends from associates and in newspaper articles. Develop and maintain cutting-edge skills in your field.

3. Research the job trends.Look in the library and on the Internet, selecting targets of opportunity that match your strengths. Request annual reports of companies that interest you, and then study them. Read trade journals and business publications, too. Stay current.

4. Apply yourself.Treat your search as a full-time job. Your resume is the main sales tool to land a job. Do whatever it takes to marshal all pertinent past experience, skills, and abilities into a well-organized presentation. Focus on the abilities you bring to the job, not on your disability, and reflect the assets you would bring to each individual position. Be mindful that some employers electronically scan resumes for key words that match their job descriptions. Only include summer employment that is relevant to the job at hand. Check over your resumeand cover letters for mistakes as if the job depends on it: Errors will knock you out of the running.

5. Invest in computer training.Conduct weekly online job searches. Visit employer Web pages and key job sites. CareerMosaic:,CareerPath:, America's Job Bank:, Monster Board:

6. Minimize any gaps in employment.Accept volunteer and temporary jobs that will provide experience and continuity in your skill areas.

7. Expand your network of contacts.Maintain relationships with your previous employers, co-workers, clients, and teachers. If you are working, get acquainted with people inside your company. Join professional and trade associations through which you may receive job postings.

8. Contact any prospective employers.Request brief meetings with people in your field(s) of interest to learn about the education, skills, and other qualifications required for a particular position-even when there isn't a job opening.

~9. Project a positive outlook.A pleasant personality is a winning asset. Your eagerness to adapt and to be a team player is essential. A sense of humor is a definite plus. Keep your spirits up, and remember that finding a job usually takes some time.

10. Be prepared to interview.Dress for success, and take an extra copy of your resume along with you. Be honest, brief, and to the point. Have full confidence in what you bring to the employer. Ask thoughtful questions about the specific job and the company. Never say anything negative.

11. Disclose a disability to the company representative only as needed.The only reasons to provide information about your disability are if you require an accommodation for an interview or to perform the essential functions of a particular job.

12. Follow up on the interview.Be sure to send a prompt letter of thanks, or in a high-tech industry, an e-mail message, to everyone you have met.

Good luck in your brand-new job!

Tony Coelho is chairman of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.

President's Committee's Job Hot Line

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a toll-free service that provides information and resources about employment and the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) to people with disabilities. Visit their Web site at or telephone (800) 526 7234 in the United States, or call (800) ADA WORK for information on the ADA.

Filed Under: Job Search

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