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Surfing for Work

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2013

People with spinal-cord injuries find job opportunities, information and career networking on the Internet.

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Picture the beginning of a career fair. A job seeker waits in line to talk to representatives for various companies. Eventually it’s his turn and he ends up chatting with several recruiters. At the end, he feels pretty enthusiastic. The best part is, he never even had to leave his house. 

Thanks to the Internet, job seekers can attend virtual career fairs, post resumes and applications, network and have interviews all from the comfort of their own homes. This is particularly helpful for people with spinal-cord injuries (SCI) who find it difficult to leave the house or don’t want to navigate through a room full of people. 

A Good Place to Start

Brian Denny can relate. Denny is a family man who worked in the construction business for many years. In March 2010, he sustained an SCI while on the job in Columbia, S.C. The injury left him completely paralyzed from the shoulders down. 

Following rehabilitation and a period of adjustment, Denny decided to re-enter the workforce in January. Initially, he tried visiting home improvement stores, looking to utilize his previous knowledge in construction.

However, one store manager told him because he couldn’t climb he wouldn’t be able to do the job. This left Denny extremely discouraged and wondering just how hard job searching is. 

A few months later, Denny tried using the Internet. He posted his information on prominent job searching websites, such as monster.com and careerbuilder.com and has  been much happier.


“The Internet is a really good place to start easing into job searching,” says Denny. “That way, you’re not getting out there and being intimidated by people that see you first and make assumptions.”

Denny believes searching online is the easiest and smartest way to look for work with an SCI. However, educating yourself is extremely important so you know what information to relay to employers.

To Check or Not Check?

 A big question when someone with SCI is searching for work online is whether to include that disability on a resume or cover letter.

Joseph Boltersdorf, a retired Air Force veteran and founder of Right Path Resumes and Consulting (rightpathresumes.co), believes it should be disclosed up front.

“When a recruiter sees ‘disabled program manager’ they might not know what that means, and to find out more they’d have to schedule an interview,” says Boltersdorf.  “And that’s the whole point of a resume.”

 Denny uses the cover letter “box” provided on job search websites to disclose he has a spinal-cord injury and explain that it won’t affect job performance. 

“I think it’s only fair to the potential employer to disclose it,” says Denny. “If you’re upfront and honest with them about your disability it also gives you the chance to list the things that you can do.”

When deciding whether to check that box or not, consider that companies are working to diversify and include people with disabilities. Last year, the federal government issued proposed regulation changes that would require more than 250,000 companies to make a greater commitment to hiring workers with disabilities.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) provides an online resource (askjan.org) with information about the feasibility of a job or the needed accommodations. JAN helps job seekers and employers gain information on what the other wants.

“What scares off employers is the unknown and their assumptions,” says Daniel Ryan, PhD, from the University at Buffalo and author of the Job Search Handbook for People with Disabilities. “Lack of information is the enemy.”

A Custom Fit

The key to successful Internet job searching is looking at every position individually. Ryan advises people to feel out each situation. 

“Your resume is where you list your ‘greatest hits’ and things that make you seem appealing to an employer to bring in for an interview,” he says. “So be careful to only disclose [a disability] in a way that sets you apart positively.”

Many companies use software that scans resumes for certain key words, meaning resumes can’t just be great anymore; they must be relevant.

Boltersdorf suggests making one, long resume that lists all of your experience. Then, draw from that “super” resume to build multiple resumes tailored to each position you’re applying for that contain the key words and experience relevant to that specific job.  This makes a resume “search engine friendly.”

Who You Know

Sometimes, however, even a “search engine friendly” resume isn’t good enough to stand out and that’s where networking can provide an edge.

The Internet is an effective way to network because there aren’t physical boundaries. You can connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

Social media sites such as LinkedIn (linkedin.com) connect employees, employers and colleagues, as well as provide business news and trends. The website also has groups, such as “Professionals with Disabilities.”

“Your networking can help differentiate you from the thousands of other applicants,” says Ryan. “If you can become a name and not a number, that is really great.”

Think Beyond the Label (TBTL) is one of the websites that offers the opportunity to become a name. TBTL (thinkbeyondthelabel.com) hosts virtual career fairs. The fairs are great for job seekers with SCI because they’re incredibly accessible and give them the chance to network in a way they feel comfortable. 

“The anonymity during the virtual career fairs is really great for job candidates with disabilities because having those initial conversations with a recruiter online first in the comfort of their own home is a nice way to ease into a relationship,” says Laura Wilhelm, TBTL program director. 

Knowledge is Power

One of the biggest benefits of hunting for work on the web is the massive amount of information online can be tailored to fit every job searcher’s needs, especially those with disabilities.

“Access to information is a great equalizer,” says Wilhelm. “The depth of information available on the Internet is really valuable from an employer and job seeker perspective.” 

Denny has used the web to figure out what kinds of jobs are suitable given his qualifications and find them. He recently applied online to a custom building company, where he’d take homeowners through the building process. The job matches his skill set and capabilities well. 

The company told Denny it wants to bring him in for an interview soon.  

 

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