When you are ready to, you need to look at how you can turn obstacles into advantages and not just inside your own head, but in your interactions in the world as well.
An essential part of feeling good about any option, is believing that you are qualified for it, that you can make contributions in that role, and that if anyone has concerns or objections about you, you can deal effectively with those concerns. If you can't do that, it's difficult to develop much self-confidence, and without a lot of confidence, it's difficult to reach a goal.
So one of the things we need to deal with up front is the question of problems, concerns, and limitations real or perceived. At the outset of my work with clients, they are usually asked to complete my information-surfacing forms. These forms ask people to tell about the good things they've done and how they've done them. (The forms help them figure this out if they're not sure.)
That information helps me understand how they address the world, and which strengths they normally rely on to get things done. That in turn helps us figure out which options might hold the most appeal for them, and provides lots of raw material for creating resumes, brochures, credentials summaries, or whatever else they might need to help them get closer to a goal.
But the forms also ask them to tell about their concerns, and any objections they think they might encounter. This is especially important where people are seeking jobs instead of starting a business.
Anyone with a long term disability is invariably going to have a few basic concerns about objections from employers. These concerns will keep them from becoming truly confident until they figure out how to handle them. So let's take a look at the most common ones.
"What have you been doing lately?"
By far the potential question that conjures up the most negative images ... and causes the most dread ... is, "What have you been doing for the past ..... (two years), (ten months), (six years) ....?" Your lack of recent employment may or may not be evident on your resume, but you can expect the question to arise naturally in the course of conversation sooner or later.
Most people imagine themselves talking about the disability, followed perhaps by an awkward silence for a few moments, followed by more questions.
They see themselves losing hope as the focus shifts from what they might do for the company, to how their disability might affect their performance. Even if the interviewer's concerns aren't actually spoken, the person coming back from a disability imagines them, and becomes defensive. In their own mind, they've already lost it, which means in fact they have.
The root of the solution here is not to try to neutralize, defend, or explain. You can only lose that way. To use an analogy with football, it is as though you were playing the entire game between the 50-yard line and the end zone you are defending. At best you might keep the other team from scoring, but you can never score any points, never win.
If you are to have any chance of coming out a winner in this discussion, you absolutely must turn this to an advantage. That's right, an advantage. If you can't come to sincerely believe that, don't even try, because it won't work. So the place to start with this objection is in your own head, to see what you believe.
How can it be perceived as an advantage? How can you start talking about it by claiming it's the single strongest reason they should hire you? Let's start with the observable facts.
If you're actually out there looking for a job, it means you've come through your disability a victor, doesn't it? Where others might have given up and gotten discouraged, you persevered. You recovered to the point where you can function again, and had the guts to go out into the world, risk rejection and perhaps some financial security, and start knocking on doors.
In the process you may have reached deep inside and developed personal strengths you never knew you had. And certainly you've overcome a huge challenge. By virtue of what you've gone through, you know you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it, regardless of the odds.
So it's likely you're more determined than the average person, with a can-do attitude born of firsthand experience. True?
A wonderful quality to have in an employee. True?
But that's not all. You've had time to think about all the things you might want to do. And you don't have to go out and find a job if you prefer not to. But of your own choosing you are out there looking for a job. And of all the things you might want to do, the one job you are seeking is the one you're interviewing for.
Talk about an employee coming to a position with a clear idea of what he or she wants!
No second guessing here. No exits two weeks later because you decided you wanted something else. We're talking about commitment, one of the most important traits any employer looks for.
There's more. You've been out for a while. The inactivity frustrated you beyond words. Yes, you achieved a victory over an unfortunate event, but that victory won't be complete until you're back into a productive, satisfying job, where you know you'll be contributing.
Simply for having gone through your disability experience, you value a job more highly than the next person. Getting back into action and turning in outstanding performance means a lot more to you than it possibly could to anyone else they might consider.
That means you'll be more highly motivated than anyone else.
More highly motivated? More enthused about turning in a great performance? Is that the single most important factor for many employers when making a hiring decision? Yes it is. And you've got it.
Unusual personal strengths, determination, commitment, motivation. Pretty strong qualifiers, I'd say. And true for most people on disability that I've worked with. If you agree that these facts are true in your case, you would do well to internalize them.
Come to believe them as strongly as you believe anything. Because if you are going to have others out there in the world of employment agree with you, you're going to have to believe it yourself first.
One exercise that might help you is to take a pocket recorder, and rehearse how you'd answer the question, "What have you been doing for the last __ years?"
Start with a phrase like, "I'm glad you asked. What I've been doing the last _____ years, and what I've achieved, probably constitutes the single strongest reason you should hire me. Let me explain."
Follow up with your personalized version of the general truths you agreed to in the previous paragraphs, if you agreed with them, and conclude with the feedback question, "Do you see now why I say that what I've done during the past ____ years is the single strongest reason you should hire me?"
Somehow, working out loud with the words reinforces your own belief in these truths, and strengthens your resolve to get out there and convince some employer that you really are the best person to hire. And even if you don't convince everyone, it feels really good to play in the other fellow's half of the field.
Do it enough and the law of numbers starts to work for you. If 10 people hear this, it's likely that at least one will agree, and maybe even be very impressed. You only need one.
In case you're wondering, yes, a lot of my clients have used this over the years, including a number who at first didn't really believe it. It has not worked every time. It has worked some of the time for every person who tried it more than once. Sounds like that famous line about "fooling some of the people," doesn't it? Except you're not fooling.
"You haven't done this type of work before."
Let's look at another common concern. When you're on disability, almost by definition, you aren't able to function in the job you held previously. So whatever you're going after, it stands to reason you haven't done it before. A potential legitimate concern, therefore, might be phrased this way by an employer .....
"Judy, you've got an admirable record of achievement, and some of your experience fits, but we do have one strong reservation, and it's the fact that you haven't done this particular type of work before."
Now believe it or not, your answer is not the most important thing here. It is not the focus of this book to go deeply into the interview process, but essentially interviewing is a matter of establishing rapport, then finding out what the employer needs and letting them know you have it. Concerns like this one usually come up after you've done all that.
Which means you've probably built up a certain positive momentum if you've gotten that far. You obviously don't want to lose that. But the natural reaction here is either to agree, which doesn't help, or to get defensive, and argue the point that your experience does fit. Problem is, even if you win the "argument," you lose the rapport, and very likely the job offer as well.
The solution? Recognize first that if someone raises an objection, it's a positive sign. Employers don't waste time raising objections about people they're not interested in. And if someone is straightforward enough to lay their objection right out for you, that's something to be appreciated, because now you can deal with it.
Next you need to understand that hiring is largely a psychological process, where emotions get involved. If it were strictly logical, computers could do it. So what happens psychologically and emotionally here is far more important than what happens logically and intellectually.
If you've built up rapport, you don't want to lose it by arguing. So your answer to the objection should not be given right away. That's too much like a rebuttal. Instead, try following a simple 4-step process where the first three steps are psychologically based, and you don't get to your answer until step #4.
In Step #1 you simply acknowledge that this is indeed something you should be talking about. Why? Well, the first thing that happens when someone raises an objection, however politely, is that the tension rises. This brings the tension back down. "I can appreciate your concern. Thanks for being straightforward in telling me directly. If I were in your position, I think I might raise the same issue."
Step #2 redirects the conversation away from the stated concern, toward the corresponding positives, which are the positive things the employer is looking for, that caused them to raise their concern in the first place. "I understand when you raise that concern, you want to be sure the person you put in this job is able to come in and start contributing right away, isn't that it?"
Notice that this comment also turns the conversation away from you, and toward some hypothetical ideal person, making the discussion less personal, more objective, and therefore more comfortable.
It ends with a question so you don't have to do all the talking, and you give the other person a chance to say something positive. That person may also feel good about your ability to understand so thoroughly the basis for raising the concern. The reply is likely to be: "That's right. That's precisely why I brought it up. You obviously understand."
Step #3 is to ask whether, if you could show you have those positive qualities, it might ease their concern somewhat. "If I could share a few thoughts with you that would show I have those qualities and could probably contribute quickly, might that help ease your concern a little?"
The question is phrased in a way that makes it very easy for someone to say "yes." It also gives the other person a chance to say something, so you have a bit of a back-and-forth conversation that takes you still further from that initial tension that arose when the concern was raised.
Now you're ready for Step #4, your answer, and in truth it doesn't matter that much how effective the actual answer is. The key thing is that the other person realizes, at some level, that you handled the objection pretty well, and didn't get flustered or argumentative. You win regardless.
Your answer can follow a number of strategies that have worked for people over the years. Often it's very effective to have a story ready about a similar situation in the past, where you faced challenges you hadn't dealt with previously, but surprised a lot of people by making contributions almost immediately.
After the story, ask a feedback question, to bring closure to the discussion, hopefully again on a positive note. "Does that help show I might have the kind of flexibility, and quickness to contribute, that you are looking for here?"
Any Job Can Be Broken Into Component Parts
If you don't have a story, another effective type of answer is to show that, while you've never had that particular job, at one time or another you have had experience in all the component parts of the job.
Any job can be broken down into its component parts, and so, for example, you may not have managed a distribution department before, but you might be able to show you've had direct experience in shipping, receiving, setting up systems to control shipments and order processing, and in managing a different department.
The point could be made that, because, at one time or another, you did a good job in each of the component functions, you're confident that you could perform well in this job. Again, close with the feedback question.
"I'm a member of that group"
Still another way to answer in Step #4 is to use the "I'm a member of that group" approach. We can define ourselves narrowly or broadly. When you have the specific experience someone is looking for, it pays to define yourself narrowly as a member of a small group having that particular background, because you are that specialist who fits all the criteria.
But for the objection we're dealing with here, it pays to define yourself as a member of a bigger group. So imagine a series of concentric cycles. In the center is a small circle which defines you very narrowly, for example, as Quality Control Manager for Electromechanical Components in Simulation Systems.
By virtue of being that, you are part of a larger group, which includes All QC Managers for Electromechanical Components, regardless of what systems they may be part of. When you think about it, you could also be defined as being part of ..... All QC Managers for Components, whether they are electronic electromechanical, or mechanical All QC Managers, whether for components, systems, or subsystems All Managers of Manufacturing Functions, whether QC, Design, Production, etc. All Managers of any Functions in a Manufacturing Company All Managers in any Type of Company
All People Who Have Held Responsible Positions in Business All People Who Have Held Responsible Positions in Any Organization
And so on, until you get to the largest group, which is human being. It's important to remember that you can draw parallels between your experience and what an employer is looking for, at any of these levels.
You might make the point that they are looking for a Manager of a Manufacturing Function, (in this case the 5th level), that you are a member of that group and do indeed have that experience, and that you learn quickly.
That means you'd be up to speed in a very short time by learning in the first few weeks whatever you need to learn, in order to do an outstanding job. Again, the feedback question comes at the end.
So you've got lots of options for your answer in Step #4, but a good answer will require some preparation. You may find the information-surfacing forms helpful in preparing stories about good things you've done in the past, in breaking your jobs into component parts, and figuring out levels of specialism.
If you'd like to work with those forms, your insuror might be able to provide them. If not, instructions for ordering them can be found in the back of this book.
"You're not up-to-date on recent developments."
Now let's turn to a third common concern for anyone on long term disability. It can be phrased in a number of ways, but in so many words it comes down to: "You've been out for ____ years. The industry has made a lot of advances in that time. Don't you think you'd be a little rusty?"
The fact is, you may be. So the time to address this concern is before you ever get to an interview. One way to quickly update yourself on industry trends is to read a dozen or so back issues of the leading trade magazines. They might be available at a large library with a business reference section.
If not, consult the SRDS Business Publications Rates & Data, a reference source available in most libraries that gives you contact information on all trade magazines. Call the magazines directly for advice on how to get access to back issues.
If you don't have time for that, for a quickie update check out the Predicasts F&S Index, either on computer or in print at most good reference libraries. It's arranged by SIC Code, and gives you the headlines of all important articles that have been printed in the past year in trade magazines that correspond to a particular SIC Code.
The SIC Code is the government's Standard Industrial Classification Code. It is a numerical code system, and every type of business will have an SIC Code. It goes up to 10 digits, but 4 digits is precise enough for most people.
The first 2 digits will give a general classification, such as 20 for the food industry, for example, and the next two digits get fairly specific, so that 2092, for example, would include companies that process fresh and frozen seafood.
The 4-digit Code is reprinted at the front of some directories, including Dun & Bradstreet's Million Dollar Directory, available in most libraries.
An Article on Industry Trends Can Give You Instant Credibility
If you want to go beyond research, some clients have found they can impress prospective employers by writing a paper that would be suitable as an article for a trade magazine, focusing on what they see as emerging trends or some other interesting subject related to the industry they are targeting. In some cases, they even contact editors to see if they can get it published.
Whether they can or not, they can still send the paper along with a letter to a decision-maker at an employer prospect, saying they hope to have it published soon, but wanted to share it with the employer for two reasons. It might contain some helpful ideas for the employer, and selfishly, they'd like to put some of those ideas to work as an employee for the organization.
The existence of the article, you see, immediately changes the employer's perspective from "Aren't you rusty?" to "Can we use the talents of this person who obviously is a well informed forward thinker, and understands the significance of our industry's trends?" It doesn't guarantee you'll get an interview, but it sure solves the problem of people thinking you might be rusty.
A Speculative Presentation
And just as you can write an article, you can do "speculative work" in your field. A computer programmer, for example, can show or discuss some of the software he or she has developed while on disability.
An information systems designer can do the same for systems developed for particular applications. A salesman of medical equipment can show some of the approaches he would use for recently introduced products.
Trading Free Services for Current Experience
You may even choose to contact someone in your industry or profession, and work with or for them at no charge, in order to bring yourself up-to-date and establish some momentum.
A client of mine in the midwest, a lawyer, recently did that, offering to work in the offices of another lawyer for relatively little compensation. It has given him a psychological lift to be productive, have an office to go to, and earn at least some money while he searches for a permanent position.
An alternative to free services is to work at a reduced salary for some period. If you do that, check to see if your insuror might be willing to supplement your salary for a short period of trial employment.
"Can you handle this job physically?"
A fourth problem that is common for people on disability is the basic question, "Are you physically able to handle this work?"
One of the knowledgeable professionals in the industry who were kind enough to read a draft of this book and give me feedback, pointed out that under the Americans With Disabilities Act, the EEOC advises employers, after describing job tasks or essential functions, to ask the question this way: "Are you able to perform these tasks with or without an accommodation?"
Legal considerations aside, and whether an employer is genuinely interested in hiring you or looking for an excuse not to, the accurate answer in most situations probably is:
"With a few simple and relatively inexpensive modifications to the workplace, I have absolutely no physical limitations that would prevent me from performing well in this position."
The key here is to think creatively. If you can't sit or stand for long periods, how difficult is it to have a work station with an adjustable-height table that can be easily raised or lowered, allowing you to do your work sitting or standing? Specially designed chairs and stools are commonplace today, and many of them help lessen pain and increase the amount of time you can sit.
Here's another area where your insuror may be willing to step in and help out with the costs involved, and they may even provide creative suggestions, either directly or through a vendor.
Time and Technology are On Your Side
Technology here is truly your greatest ally. Advances are being made so quickly in so many areas, that circumstances you might have been resigned to just a few years ago need no longer be tolerated.
It's up to you, of course, to take the initiative and keep yourself informed of any and all developments that may affect your condition or make your disability less of a barrier to productive work, whether you work for yourself at home, or for an employer.
Here are three recent examples. One of my clients who lives in Louisiana had three back operations and one neck operation. He was constantly in pain, at a level intense enough that required fairly strong drugs to get through it. The combination of fighting the pain and taking the drugs left him with only about 2 or 3 good hours per day, where he could focus his mind sharply.
He's a brilliant fellow who had designed and implemented complex information and control systems to coordinate activities on major construction projects, and we had developed some promising opportunities for him to return to gainful employment. The limit of 2 to 3 "good" hours per day, however, made them impractical.
The solution in his case was a combination of things. He identified a particular chair that helped a lot. He found a new physical therapist whose approach resulted in less pain. And he discovered an emerging sound technology, dubbed bio-acoustics, that lessened the level of pain he felt, enabling him to reduce his drug intake.
The overall results? More energy and stamina, and an ability to work effectively for 5 to 6 hours each day, instead of 2 or 3. He started a small consulting business, has considered joining a veterinarian in a business that tracks dog licenses for the city in which he lives, and has been approached by his old employer to work on special projects.
Here's a different kind of example about technology. A client in the Southwest had been a key operating executive for a high-tech company in robotics. When he suddenly became legally blind, he could no longer keep up-to-date on the latest developments in six technologies, a requirement for him to function properly.
This inability to absorb a lot of information appeared to be a significant obstacle in identifying new opportunities for him. Fortunately, scanner/synthesizer technology that cost ,000 three or four years ago, now is available for 00.
He can now place any printed or typed material on a portable machine that will read it to him at greatly speeded up rates, and can absorb some types of information aurally almost as well as he could visually.
In practical terms, where he had previously been extremely limited, this technology allows him to work with venture capital firms, some leading scientific institutions, and some private companies, to accelerate the development of selected technologies and find new applications for them.
For two other clients, one an accountant and one a medical doctor, both of whom had to face a strenuous course of study and exams, and both of whom suffered from problems with concentration and short-term memory, some inexpensive sound tapes helped them get through successfully.
The tapes are based on a technology that apparently helps bring the two hemispheres of the brain into synchronization, thereby aiding concentration.
Medical Developments Are On Your Side
There are many positive medical developments as well. One, for example, could have positive implications for people recovering from a stroke or accident. In experiments on the brain and nervous system, teams of scientists and physicians have discovered that individual cells are able to communicate among themselves in previously unsuspected ways.
By introducing alternate sets of signals to the brain, which can apparently be initiated by something as simple as body movements and visualization, they have learned that the brain and nervous system are quite dynamic.
Their experiments indicate that apparently the brain and nervous system can build alternate circuits with different sets of signals, to create new connections. They've termed it "neuroplasticity."
The implications are that recovery from strokes and accidents does not necessarily have to be limited to levels previously accepted as normal, and that there is indeed a scientific basis for what used to be termed "miracle cures."
The implications of technological advances are not limited just to physical disabilities either. One of my clients in Texas had been suffering from depression, but apparently had made a dramatically fast recovery, to the point where his doctors felt he was ready to start working with me.
He told me jokingly that electric shock therapy had been the answer, then explained the science had developed to the point where doctors now administer just tiny amounts of current that go directly to various receptors in the brain. The term for it now is apparently cranial electrostimulation, and in his case, he says, it made a powerful and positive difference.
And in addition to conventional medical developments, there is apparently a growing awareness on the part of medical doctors that some people may play a far greater role in their own recovery than previously suspected, through visualization and other means.
The fast-reading book Remarkable Recovery, by Caryle Hirshberg and Marc Ian Barasch, gives many examples of people who surprised their doctors by recovering from a serious illness.
The implication of their findings is that closer study of this phenomenon by the medical community may one day result in their identifying specific things people can do on their own, to enhance their chances for recovery from serious illness.
Closing Thoughts on Potential Employer Concerns
Whatever concerns you may have, or whatever objections you may anticipate from employers, rest assured there is most likely a way to neutralize most of them or turn them to advantage.
Sometimes that requires actions before you get into interviews, and at other times they can be handled during interviews. Either way, the key to turning them around always starts with you, and your own belief that they can indeed be turned to your advantage.
A lot of what has been said here for people seeking jobs can also apply for people who intend to go into business. The difference is that, instead of impressing employers, they may need to impress potential investors, creditors, suppliers or partners.
For many people, the option of going into business is the option of choice, in some cases out of necessity, but for others simply because it provides a lot of advantages. We'll take a look at that option in Chapter 8. Before we do, we'll consider next the benefits and pure joy of getting into action.