Every job seeker knows the importance of determining if a position is a good fit. For workers with disabilities, however, that knowledge is even more crucial. Working in an ill-fitting environment is more than emotionally taxing; it can be physically harrowing.
Two keys to finding an appropriate job -- including the right industry, company, supervisor and colleagues -- are research and preparation. Here's how to set yourself up for success.
Check Out the CompanyYou can do research even before you know what you're looking for. The US Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook describes different professions' tasks, working conditions, training and education required, earnings and expected job prospects. The Job Accommodation Network also offers extensive services. More specific information is available at the Department's O*Net site. You can also research companies on Monster.
Once you've narrowed your choices, keep researching, advises Nancy Starnes, vice president of the National Organization on Disability. "A lot depends on the workplace itself," she says. "Large corporations with multiple locations might allow more flexibility. Is telecommuting a possibility?
Scrutinize job ads closely. Does the company welcome applications from people with disabilities? If the ad includes a photograph, does it show anyone with a disability?
A company's Web site provides other subtle hints. Do you find images of people like you? What about links to an affinity group for people with disabilities? Do press releases refer to disability-related issues?
If possible, examine the facility where you will interview or may be working in advance. Newer buildings often conform more closely to Americans with Disabilities Act standards than older ones. For more insights, talk to local disabilities organizations and building code officials.
You might also pose as a customer. If you are treated poorly, that could be indicative of the work environment.
Read the job description closely to determine how well you can fulfill its demands. Self-assessment is important. You must be realistic about your knowledge, skill level and experience. Ask yourself if you will need a flexible schedule, more sick days or specific workplace accommodations.
At the same time, every item might not be realistic, so prioritize your needs. If you're uncertain of your ability, take a job test at a state or local vocational office.
Katherine McCary, a vice president at SunTrust Bank who runs her firm's Accessing Community Talent program through its Disability Resource Center, downplays accommodation worries. "People with disabilities have known what they've needed all through school and the rest of life," she says. "They're used to adaptive technology. A lot of accommodations are easily transferable from one area to another.
McCary cites the example of a bank teller. "The focus shouldn't be on the position itself but on the adaptive keyboard that's needed," she says. "It's probably one the teller already uses."
Take a Test Drive
Another way to assess a job's fit is trying it out first. Emerging Leaders places college students with disabilities in summer internships and provides them with leadership development opportunities. The US Business Leadership Network also offers internships. Some companies allow interim employment as a way for job seekers with disabilities to test-drive a position.
The interview itself offers clues whether a particular position or company is a good fit. An inaccessible interview site is one indicator. So is an interviewer who seems distracted by a wheelchair, service animal or crutches.
It is illegal for employers to ask questions about a disability until a job is offered. However, you must be forthright. Ask honest questions, such as, "How do you feel about having a wheelchair user in your shop?" Pay attention to the speed, ease and comprehensiveness of an interviewer's response, then respond accordingly. "An interview is a two-way street," Starnes says. "The company is interviewing you, but you're interviewing them too. If one side isn't straightforward, issues might crop up when it's too late."
Overall, Starnes suggests workers with disabilities consider their timing. "Ask your questions respectfully -- but not at the beginning," she advises. "Sell yourself first. And understand the employer's point of view. Some interviewers may think you're already working with an attorney and are trying to trap them if they're not accessible. They need to see you as a legitimate, interested job seeker."