I work sometimes with young adult clients who are having difficulty as they begin their career journeys because they are physically different, impaired, or disabled in some way.
It can of course be hard for people with mobility or communication disabilities – or unusual body types or features — to navigate hiring teams’ perceptions. Challenging dynamics exist even when the prospective employer or hiring team has no active biases against “differently-abled” people, even when the atypical candidate’s condition would in no way compromise their ability to do the job in question.
Employers are legally obligated to make provisions in support of people with disabilities or health problems. Privacy protections handcuff most everyone’s ability to even discuss medical situations. Further, it is risky for prospective employers to have straightforward conversations with candidates about these topics for fear of charges of discrimination. So hiring processes must incorporate some degree of unspoken “enterprise risk management” when considering people.
My clients’ experiences were that they were quite able to get first round in-person interviews based on their credentials and phone screening – but they were always eliminated from candidate pools after the first round. Like EVERY time.
Our society is overtly supportive of people with medical challenges or physical limitations. Federal, state and local governments all have legislation and programs to that end.
So far, though, I have been underwhelmed by the effectiveness of the job-related social services that would help people with special needs. My impression is that the guidance given to atypical job seekers is sometimes uninspired and generic. A common suggestion is that special needs candidates can work for government agencies with set-aside slots for special needs people – often doing work to support other special needs people. This is little help to a young person who has the aptitudes, energy level, passion and ambition to participate in the competitive private sector.
It is clear to anyone watching, though, that adult job-seekers who are physically different must hustle extra hard to connect with opportunities, stand out from the crowd, and give hiring managers confidence that they can perform with excellence. So let’s unpack how young adults who are “atypical” can improve their odds when job-seeking…
#1 — Understand an employer’s “risk management” realities
Pause to consider the challenges employers may have with hiring them – how a person’s physical or medical challenges can become a Pandora’s Box of obligations for their employer. Also how hiring teams do not dare discuss those things in interviews. Try to see all of that from the hiring teams’ perspective.
#2 – Make sure the prospective job is really a good fit
Do a thorough self-assessment, and then make sure that the work they are pursuing – and the specific jobs they apply for – are genuinely a good match for their capabilities and interests. (check out a recent post on that topic)
The atypical candidate needs to be HIGHLY confident that they will succeed with the role so they can convince the hiring team, and then load the hiring team down with ammunition to convince others.
#3 – Get out in front of the conversation
Pro-actively introduce their physical situation, helping hiring teams to understand without anyone stumbling awkwardly around it.
Provide a (carefully crafted) document as a companion to the resume, which introduces their physical condition in simple terms along with any special job-related considerations that would be helpful for them. This content should be plain-spoken and conclude with a hard shift to asserting their ambitions and capabilities.
#4 – Get GREAT at networking
Build relationships with everyone who might help them to connect with opportunities, share insider knowledge regarding the company’s needs and expectations for candidates, and then champion for them internally when the time comes. (here is a recent post on that topic)
#5 – Maximize the effectiveness of remote interviewing
Remote interviewing can be a great equalizer for atypical people. All the video interviewer encounters is a talking head shot.
Be meticulous about lighting and audio effectiveness (especially if they have speech or hearing issues), also about physical presentation details — attire, hair, etc. Rehearse in advance. Be prepared to smile and project positive energy like crazy.
#6 — Practice telling your story
Get great at storytelling with confidence and with humor, showcasing communication skills, chatting in a way that puts hiring managers at ease, always emphasizing capabilities and noteworthy life accomplishments.
If atypical candidates do these things, the road to satisfying / secure employment may still be too long, but they will have shifted the odds significantly in the right direction.
Anyone who would like to connect with me on these topics is invited to visit my website at www.otoolecoaching.com.