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Monday, February 25, 2008

A Misunderstood Disability

This is the hardest e-mail, esp. to a stranger, and I'll bet the oddest one you've received. I am a veteran with 13 yrs. served in the Air Force. I was injured in Desert Storm and medically discharged.

Here lies the problem, my doctors told me I talk as if I'm drunk or high on something.

My question is this; should I tell potential employers before an interview about this affliction? I have had what I thought were excellent interviews for good to menial jobs with no success.

I'm not stupid, I'm an electronics technician by trade in both the military and civilian sectors. I can't wait for the VA to raise my disability, if they do at all. I saw your site on the Internet and was impressed with your humbleness. What do you think, being an HR professional, I would appreciate any advice you can share.


Normally, I would say there is no need to disclose a disability before you need to. In your case, you need to disclose it soon. Why? Because if you sound drunk, to the recruiter on the phone you are drunk.

Now, I realize this is all sorts of judgmental on the part of the recruiter. (Please note, I am not judgmental because I am not a recruiter. Oh, strike that, I certainly am judgmental and so are all of you. It's how we get through the day--making constant judgments about things and acting on those judgments.)

As, I said, I'm not a recruiter, but I did play one for about 3 months. Granted, I was recruiting bank tellers (starting salary $8.56 per hour!), which is different than your qualifications. However, I can tell you that when someone was inappropriate on the phone, we rejected them regardless of how qualified they were on paper.

Now, my suggestion to you is that if you get a call from a recruiter (or hiring manager), the conversation should go somewhat like this:

Ring, ring (or in today's world, a sudden blast of some bizarre ring tone that you downloaded for $0.99)

You: Hello, This is Jim.

Recruiter: This is Karen from Acme Corp. I received your resume and application for an electronics technician job.

You: Thanks for calling, Karen. I'd just like to warn you that if I sound a little off, it's due to a medical condition. Fortunately, it just affects my speech and not the rest of my abilities. I'm very excited to hear from you, as I really respect the work that Acme Corp does.

Now, I would never recommend someone starting out saying, "Just so you know, I only have one leg" or "I'm diabetic, so I need regularly scheduled breaks and lunches!" But, because your condition can be misconstrued as "it's 10:30 a.m. and he's drunk?!?!" it's important to be up front about it.

I hope this helps and it works for you. I am not so naive as to think that having this condition won't make it more difficult to find work then it would otherwise (it shouldn't, but this is the real world and people are often afraid of things they don't understand).

This means that you will need to work twice as hard to find a great job. Remember to network, network, network. All those people you were in the military with, and know your work, are excellent places to start. And don't be afraid to reach out to people and let them know what you are looking for, even if you don't think they can help you.

Just last week, my brother-in-law called and asked if I would be willing to talk to a friend of a friend of his (catch how far removed I am from this person?) because he'd just been laid off and needed some advice on how to proceed. Sure, I said. After our conversation about dealing with his recent layoff he said, "When I figure out what companies I'm going to target, do you mind if I include you on my 'do you know anybody at this company?' e-mails?"

Brilliant, I thought. Rather than saying, "gee, I really want to work for Bob's House of Pets, but I don't know any one, so I'll just fill out this online application," he's going to send out e-mails to everyone he knows asking if you know someone who works for Bob's House of Pets. It's been my experience that people are generally thrilled to help other people get jobs. He knows I don't work for Bob's House of Pets, but he doesn't know who my relatives, friends and ex-co-workers work for.

Good luck on your job search and thank you so much for serving in the military. I really appreciate it and know you did it at a high cost.

5 comments:

Andy Lester said...

It's no different than the candidate (and eventual hire) who told me right off that he was hearing-impaired, which affected his speaking voice. Some times you just have to tell people these things.

HR Wench said...

My HR brothers and sisters: Hire a Hero today! Go to http://www.hireheroesusa.org/hireavet.php and get started.

My current company recruited through a similar program in the early 90's with excellent results.

Wally Bock said...

I would definitely mention that the condition is connected to your war service. In today's world (unlike when I returned from overseas) there is respect for that service. Use it. You earned it.

Lisa said...

I agree with the comments above and encourage you to also consider the Federal Government, i.e. the VA or DOD where your veteran status will provide you preference in hiring. Thank you for your service.

Sassenach said...

I would also like to recommend enlisting the help of Disabled American Veterans. In addition to helping with the job search, they also can provide excellent assistance in navigating the VA's disability program.

Also, join veteran's organizations (such as VFW) or trade associations (The Association of Old Crows, perhaps?) and get active. Those social connections, among people who are likely to understand the nature of your service and your sacrifice, can lead to the sort job leads that are more appropriate to your skill level.

Thank you for your service, and sincere best wishes.