Few experiences inspire as much dread and physical discomfort for me as a job interview. I prepare as much I can and dress professionally in black and white, with coordinated jewelry and jacket. I always make sure to arrive early, with notebook and pen in hand, and I’m never without portfolio samples. All of us have had job interviews that we would rather not recall too often. Of course, the ones that worked out bring the happiest memories. Taken together, the lessons from all interviews can be positive. I’ll spare readers personal horror stories. I’ll only say that it’s more challenging to find a job when you have a disability. But job interviews are not fun for anyone–even the interviewers.
The interview that led to my first job was the most successful, but several have been good since then. I’m a morning person, but this particular interview took place in the early afternoon. I was very nervous, but my interviewers quickly made me feel at ease. I enjoyed talking with them, and I was able to show them what I could do for their organization. Everything pointed to a great fit, and it remained so for eight years, when I decided it was time to spread my wings. Some efforts since then have crashed and burned. But it’s always better to try new things, expand skill sets, and get your name out there than not making any career changes at all.
For all those who are still job hunting, here are some bits of wisdom I’ve learned over time. Enjoy!
1) Potential employers want to hire people who know their stuff. They also look for people who are confident, upbeat, positive, enthusiastic, and friendly. People skills are critical. Treat everyone well.
2) If possible, do a dry run at least several days before the interview so you can solve any logistics or time issues. You don’t want to arrive somewhere and find that you can’t navigate steps and other things. It may be possible to have the interview elsewhere.
3) Good sleep the night before is important, so do your best to relax. You may not sleep well, but at least try. Prepare everything and pack it up the night before, including last-minute reviews of the “situation-action-results” examples on yourself, answers to interviewer questions and goals, work samples, resume, reference list, pen and paper, and questions about the company. Type all applications and materials.
4) The morning of the interview, get up early. Don’t have coffee or a big breakfast. Avoid onion bagels or any other strong-flavored foods.
5) After the interview, away from the office, write up what you remember of the conversation. Use these notes in writing a thank-you note to interviewers that very night. Then go on to the next opportunity until you hear something. Follow up with company contacts at the agreed-upon time. It’s better to do so by phone.
Jobseekers with disabilities must do all of the above and more. Two great books are Daniel J. Ryan’s 2004 Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities and Job Hunting for the So-Called Handicapped, Or People with Disabilities, by Richard Nelson Bolles and Dale Susan Brown (2001). Use all job-hunting programs and resources available, disability related or not–books, magazine articles, online resources, social media, in-person meetings, professional groups, whatever. The websites Disability.gov, The Office of Disability Employment Policy, Worksupport.com, and many others offer valuable resources. Keep reading and studying material related to your specific field.
You also have to be ready, when asked, to talk about about reasonable accommodations at an interview and on the job, and know what assistive technology you will need. The Job Accommodation Network, at West Virginia University, provides guidance for jobseekers and employers.
So get out there! It’s an uphill battle, but worth it.