Posted August 02, 2019 by

How to Use Your Disability as a Strength When Applying for a Job

Lois Barth is a Human Development Expert, Speaker, Life and Business Coach, and Author of the book, “Courage to SPARKLE; The Audacious Girls’ Guide to Creating A Life that Lights You Up.” Lois will be a panelist at the College Recruiting Bootcamp on D&I at EY on December 12th in New York City.

Did you know that bones that were broken and healed properly are stronger than bones that have never been broken at all? It’s a fact, as well as a great metaphor for those with disabilities. As a life and business coach, I often tell my clients to use that fact in an interview, not harping on the disability, but being strategic in sending the message that adapting to, and in some cases, overcoming a disability, makes them a far stronger candidate than someone who has never gone through adversity.

There are, in fact, many ways to turn a disability into a desired ability when applying for a job. Of course, it all depends on the type of disability, the position and the company culture.

Start with Some Research

There are many factors to consider about a company before applying for a job. I guide my career-coaching clients who are getting ready for an interview to think of themselves as an investigator out to solve a mystery. Begin the process by looking at the company on a broad-stroke level. What does the website tell you about the organization? You can learn a lot about the culture from the messaging, the use of buzz words (such as diversity, inclusion, team engagement), company values, charitable contributions, community involvement and recent initiatives. Additionally, pay attention to the images: Do they include photos of employees who are diverse? Do the images reflect a company that is more conservative, or one that is more progressive?

You can also Google them to discover any current or past newsworthy trends in both their industry and their organization that may impact hiring. For instance, if they just received a “Best Places to Work” award, it’s likely that their culture is positive and inclusive. On the other hand, if you find a backlash for recent marginalizing of a group, you may want to steer clear. Review sites like Glass Door can be tricky because it’s usually the employees who have extreme experiences (they either love it or hate it) that take the time to write, which means you’re not getting the full picture. You may, however, notice themes among the reviews.

Once you get a company overview, take a deeper dive into the job description. What are the primary functions? Whom are you serving? What core competencies are they looking for and is your disability an asset (it often is) or a deficit? How do you spin it to either show how your disability will make you a better candidate or at the very least, won’t hinder your performance?

Use Story-Selling to Make Your Pitch

Recently I worked with a client whose disability was fairly obvious from the get-go, but given his non-profit focus, it was an asset, because he had overcome so much to get where he is and the job that he was interviewing for was serving an underserved and neglected population. I strongly suggested that he lead with his “story-selling pitch” which was a wonderfully touching story about learning to deal with his disability, and how, in the process, he learned so much about empathy, persistence, critical thinking, and determination, all of which were desired qualities for this position. Within the story, we weaved in his hard skills that embodied a whole slew of accomplishments that were germane to the position. The interviewer became intrigued and after several interviews with board members, he was offered the job.

If your disability is blatantly obvious and may be perceived as a deficit, but nobody’s talking about it, using a well-crafted story that highlights the key qualities the employer is looking for can be very impactful. Many job descriptions list qualities such as critical thinking, determination, adaptability, and self-starter, to name just a few, that people who have successfully navigated their disability have had to develop.

However, if your disability may bring to question functionality and the ability to perform a job, then that needs to be addressed head-on. It’s best to do this in a fluid, conversational tone, using examples from the past to dispel any concerns a potential employer may have.

As a rule, I suggest candidates do more listening than talking. Ask thoughtful questions and focus on being interested versus interesting, which works for people with or without disabilities! Don’t play the disability card, but don’t try to avoid it either. Rapt attention, genuine interest, enthusiasm and energy are rare these days, which means demonstrating these qualities will take you far. Of course, you also need the hard skills to back up your competency.

Finally, don’t be afraid to bring humor to the situation. When appropriately stated, humor can go a long way to dispel any tension that may be present. It shows that you are not overly sensitive, that you have a sense of humor and humility, but you’re not ashamed of your disability. In general, people hire people they like; people whom they can relate to and trust, regardless of a disability.  

Know Your Strengths 

One of my colleagues had very intense dyslexia and ADHD. She couldn’t sit still for more than 20-30 minutes, and paperwork that should have taken 10-20 minutes took hours and was tortuous. On the positive side, she was amazing with people, could pivot on a dime, had tons of energy and loved making people feel special. She was also hilarious, passionate about health and loved helping people.

Fortunately, the health club where she was working saw her strengths and was smart enough to move her from a stifling mid-level administrative position to a sales job where she could meet and greet clients. Her people skills, creativity and natural curiosity about others, made her very good at this position and, in turn, the position made her very happy. Within the first month, she became head of sales.

Before you begin applying for positions, take a realistic assessment of your strengths: What do you bring to the potential employer? Do your abilities mesh with the job description and the qualities they value? Again, be sure to do your research on the industries, companies and jobs that provide a good fit with your unique assets.

For instance, if someone has ADD, a job that demands constant switching of tasks or mostly short-term projects takes advantage of this person’s proclivities. Meanwhile, someone with OCD may excel at a job that requires being very precise and detail oriented. For people who don’t pick up social cues and operate at their best by themselves, a strong analytic research job that requires long hours of solitary focused work may be a perfect fit. In other words, depending on the job, “alleged disabilities” may be a huge benefit.

Do Your Research. Lead with Enthusiasm. Make it About What You Can Provide.

Those are the three main takeaways when applying for any job. Remember, you may have a disability, but you are much more than your disability. You’re a whole person, with skill sets and talents that are valuable to the right employers. With every disability, there is another ability that has gotten strengthened to compensate. That’s why, even though it’s become quite PC, I do like the phrase “learning differences.” We all have challenges and we all have assets. Nobody’s exempt from the human being club that’s full of complexity and diversity. The more you embrace it as just one of the many facets of your humanity, the more you can celebrate (and sell) the one-of-a-kind gem that you are.

Lois Barth is a Human Development Expert, Speaker, Life and Business Coach, and Author of the book, “Courage to SPARKLE; The Audacious Girls’ Guide to Creating A Life that Lights You Up.” Lois supports her clients to overcome their negative self-talk, manage stress and advocate for themselves and dynamically create the next chapter of their life. She has worked with over 800 clients and on a professional level has helped them in every area from career transition, interview skills training, communication and building their business. The creator of Smart Sexy TV, she has been the makeover life coach for SELF Magazine; Fitness Magazine and Fit Blog (Sears) as well as the “Stress Less–Thrive More” Lady for C.T. Style TV (ABC Affiliate). A sought after expert, Lois has been quoted and published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, College Recruiter, SELF Magazine, to name a few.  Her speaking clients include L’Oreal, Women in Banking, Capital One, Mid-Atlantic Women in Energy, Society of Women Engineers, and the American Heart Association to name a few. 

Join Lois Barth, along with your fellow university relations, talent acquisition and other human resource leaders from corporate, non-profit and government agencies at the:

College Recruiting Bootcamp on D&I at EY

Organized by College Recruiter and hosted by Ernst & Young

Thursday, December 12, 2019

9:30 AM – 2:30 PM (EST)

Ernst & Young World Headquarters

121 River Street

Hoboken, NJ 07030

For more information and tickets, go to: http://www2.CollegeRecruiter.com/BootcampOnDIatEY

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