The Braille Monitor January, 2004
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Open Letter to a Blind Person: How to Get a Job
by Mike Bullis
From the Editor: Mike Bullis has been writing a series of open letters to blind people. The topics vary, but they are all filled with practical experience and wisdom. Here is the latest.
Like most of you I started out thirty years ago looking for employment in all the traditional ways. I printed up résumés, had people read me the want ads, and went to job interviews. Job hunting was a lottery with very long odds. I printed up résumés fifty at a time and was out knocking on doors from early morning to late afternoon. Mostly looking for a job was a series of disappointments culminating in the lucky result that with a great deal of persistence I finally found employment. I never felt particularly good about the process but didn't know any other way to accomplish my goal. I assumed that everybody did it that way.
Over time I discovered that, although I always seemed to get jobs, they seldom came through the job lottery of résumés and interviews with people I didn't know. Thanks to teachers like Richard Bolles, who wrote What Color Is Your Parachute, and friends who steered me in the right directions, I've turned job hunting into--if not a truly pleasurable experience--at least one that regularly yields positive results. You can do the same.
First, forget everything you've been taught and start over. Below is my guaranteed success formula for finding employment. The only reason it won't work is if you don't work it. Well, okay, there are a few caveats. The system will work faster and more fluidly if you are able to do a few things to help yourself. First, you must know how to gather information through research and good listening skills. Second, you need to be a good conversationalist--listening more than you talk. Third, you should make a presentable appearance in your dress and social mannerisms--no rocking or putting your fingers in your eyes. Finally, and this is a big one, you need to know how to be socially pleasant--not abrasive or socially obnoxious.
1. Since one out of fifteen hundred résumés sent to an unknown employer results in a job, stop sending them out to people you haven't spoken to unless there simply isn't any other way to reach a specific employer.
2. Since going to job interviews with personnel departments at companies where you don't know anyone seldom results in employment, stop that as well. If you know of job openings at a particular company, find out who the supervisor or manager is and go speak with that person. Personnel departments can seldom hire; they can only say, "No"--not what you want to hear. Yes, most companies still allow supervisors to hire their own staff, so those are the people you want to see.
3. Since want ads are sixth or seventh on the list of ways employers use to hire, stop reading them unless you use them to help you locate companies with vacancies, but don't bother answering the ads. There are much better ways to get hired.
The nice thing about stopping all these behaviors that seldom result in jobs is that they are typically the most dreary, frustrating, and painful parts of the job search. The reason they are dreary and painful is that they require you to prepare for a long series of nos. Regular and frustrating rejection is the name of the game when you use traditional methods of job search. It's hard on your self-image and, frankly, very inefficient. So now that we've removed the most unpleasant aspects of getting a job, what's left? Below are the ABC's of locating your ideal job.
A. Do your homework. Read every article you can find about the companies you're interested in and the field generally. If articles have been written about key people, read them as well. In other words, become conversant with the business. Even if you want to become a hamburger flipper, you should know about the business. What are its biggest challenges? What are its rewards? What are its management issues? Tell every friend and acquaintance what you're interested in doing. You'll be surprised how often they know somebody in the company or field of interest and can set you up with an informational interview. More about this technique later, but suffice it to say you should do your research--learn the jargon and other topical issues in the field. You'd be surprised at how many applicants are so interested in their own needs that they fail to do this basic research and demonstrate a true interest in what the employer is looking for. Here are some things you should know:
What is the broad history of the field?
Who are its movers and shakers? What is their philosophy?
What parts are stagnant or well defined and what parts are in flux or growth?
Which are the local, state, national, and international organizations of influence in the field? This can include companies, professional organizations, citizens groups, universities, etc.
What are the primary challenges currently facing the field?
What is the working terminology of the occupation? Each field of endeavor develops its own acronyms, shorthand, and professional terminology. You need to know the language.
B. The number-one way employers hire is from people they know or that someone they know knows. Your main focus should be on getting to know the people who can hire you. Another thing to remember: employers would rather hire someone who is trainable and easy to get along with than someone with all the skills necessary but who creates problems on the job. If you are armed with these facts, your goal is easy. Begin telephoning people in key positions at companies you may wish to work for. If the company has thirty or fewer employees, talk to the owner or president. If more than thirty, pick an upper-level manager.
Whatever you do, don't go to personnel. Tell the person you want to speak to them that you are conducting informational interviews and would like to meet with them to talk about their company, the field generally, its plusses and minuses, and how they themselves got into it. You'd be surprised at how easy it is. All of us love to talk about ourselves and our companies. They will conclude that you're bright, inquisitive, thoughtful, and likeable if you prepare a good set of questions and listen carefully to the answers they give. The following question formula is a good starting point:
What are your duties and responsibilities? How do you spend your day? How did you get started at this company (or in your profession)?
What do you like most about your job? What do you like least? What kind of person is right for this kind of work?
How can I learn more about this field? Are there specific trade journals I should be reading or associations I can join?
How can I meet others in this field?
What is the best way to get started (in this field or at this company)?
I'm trying to get in to see people at some other organizations. Do you know anyone at these companies? May I use your name?
Can you direct me to others in your department/organization/division/company with whom you think it would be appropriate for me to talk or meet?
During your discussion the person you are interviewing may speculate about how a blind person could do the necessary work. Try to avoid this because the person probably has little or no knowledge about blindness. You should assume responsibility and take control of the conversation by saying, "If you were to hire a blind person, he or she should take responsibility for knowing how to get the job done." Then move on to the next question. Don't get involved in guessing games about how this or that circumstance could be handled. You're here to learn about the field, not to discuss blindness. Usually potential employers will be impressed if you simply state that figuring out these details would be the responsibility of the blind employee.
If there are loose ends--pieces of information, possible contacts, etc.--that aren't immediately available, never leave it to a potential employer to get back to you. You should say, "I'm really hard to reach, so why don't I call you? When would be a good time?" Try never to get yourself in the position of waiting for calls. When you have asked your last question, get up and leave. More interviews have been ruined by staying too long than for almost any other reason. This employer is busy, and so are you, so get out as soon as you reasonably can.
Some people have suggested that this process is a bit dishonest. That is, if you disguise the fact that you're looking for a job, isn't that deceptive? Yes, it certainly would be deceptive, so that's not what I am recommending. If you really don't think you can learn anything by talking to middle managers and CEO's, you shouldn't conduct the interviews. I am proposing that the more information you gain the better able you will be to contribute to the field professionally and that these informational interviews are an honest process through which to educate yourself. I am also quite certain that, if you are going to get very far in any field, you need to know the people who are doing the hiring.
C. Follow your interview with a thank-you note (either by email or snail mail) and a résumé (always by snail mail). Your résumés should be crafted to address the particular job and employer. Focus on the work you have done that relates to this particular field, the problems you solved, the methods you used to solve them, and the results achieved. What jobs you have done are often of less interest in your résumé than the skills and traits you brought to the tasks. In our hamburger-flipper example, rather than talking about working full-time at McDonald's, you might say: 2000-2002 Hamburger Flipper at McDonald's. Reorganized grill area, which resulted in 11 percent efficiency increase. Reduced food waste by 3 percent. Was willing to work any and all shifts necessary. Received Company Award for Kitchen Cleanliness and implemented cleanliness plans throughout store, resulting in a 6 percent increase in customers.
You get the point. It's all about not just showing what you did but the value it contributed to the organization. Employers are smart enough to know that, if you are a problem solver in one organization, you will do the same for them as well. Never mention pay rates in a résumé or if particular work was as a volunteer. It doesn't matter and will only raise irrelevant issues.
Don't take your résumé to the information-gathering interview. After your discussion you might find a different way to word a particular skill. Besides, sending your résumé later gives you another chance to put your name in front of the employer. If he or she liked you, that résumé will not only be on file but on his or her mind. And he or she will probably like you if you asked good questions, were interested in the answers, had done your homework about the company and field, and got the heck out of there when you were finished.
What will happen, and I can guarantee it, is that, as you interview people, you will learn lots of things about the field others may not know and increase your value to employers in the process. Your blindness won't be a major factor because you are not asking for a job; you are just collecting information. Employers hate job interviews as much as you do. You have taken the pressure off them to make a decision. In a far shorter time than by using old methods, you will have a job offer.
Is it really this simple? I and many others have found it so. I would say, though, that you need to invest time at it. Statistics show that two-thirds of job hunters spend five hours or less a week in the job search. Sorry, folks, that just won't get the job done. You should be putting in at least twenty hours a week. You will have a four-to-one advantage over two-thirds of the people out there, and it will keep the process exciting and fun.
Yes, there may be an unemployment rate of 70 percent among blind people, but my observation over the years has been that some people always seem to be working while others struggle and often give up along the way. The people who are always working use some form of the process I've outlined here. For them the unemployment rate is 0 percent because they have eliminated the less productive parts of the job search and concentrated their energies on those activities most likely to yield results.
Did you know that you can make a gift to the National Federation of the Blind and save taxes three ways? Well, you can! With a gift of appreciated stocks, bonds, or mutual funds. For more information contact the National Federation of the Blind, Special Gifts, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230-4998, phone (410) 659-9314, fax (410) 685-5653.
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