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Applying for a job - what's important?

Today I am rejoining the original intent of this series – focusing on helping people with disabilities get a job by addressing what’s important when applying for a job

The past two weeks, I wrote about being a job seeker and selecting a goal (and then a side step to how to work with an employment service provider for those whose disability makes that approach appropriate). This week we are diving into what is important as an applicant. And, in an attempt to stay on track with this series, the information contained in this blog does suggest using input and assistance from others, HOWEVER, this is not intended to be a suggestion of an “employment support professional”, it can be-for those eligible and interested in those services; but is actually aimed at an applicant leveraging assistance from friends, teachers, mentors, parents, other family members, or any other avenue of support.

For job seekers, once a goal is selected, the application process begins!! Applying for a job, in almost all cases, starts with an electronic application. During times when there is a labor shortage, the purpose of a job application process is to recruit, entice and draw in job seekers to become applicants (increase how many people make it into consideration). During times when there is a plethora of job seekers for each opening, the purpose of the process is to serve as a screen (limit how many people make it into consideration). So, it makes sense that during times when there is a labor shortage, application processes are more willing to take a risk, and consider a candidate who may not meet all listed requirements. Whereas when there is a shortage of job openings, the requirements may no longer be the minimum needed for consideration. This part is just a little background, currently we are in a labor shortage in the U.S.

A quick note on resumes – same thing, do not send the same resume for multiple jobs, look at each company and position and tailor the words you use, the order you present information, etc. to match the value they are seeking, the value you can offer.

However, regardless of the level of desperation of those who are hiring, your job as an applicant is to demonstrate the value you bring to the business. And this means 3 things: know what the business values; know your value; and know how to convey that connection.

1. Know what the business values: I have created a downloadable tip sheet that you can use to help you find out what a business is looking for. Here’s a quick story to make the point – when I was 16, I wanted to change jobs (I was waitressing in a retirement residential system). I wanted a better wardrobe and so I applied for a job at a clothing store knowing that the pay combined with an employee discount would provide me an option to upgrade the contents of my closet. During the interview, the store manager asked me “why do you want to work here?” and I answered, “I want to upgrade my wardrobe”. It was a very honest answer. Obviously, I didn’t get the job. But I’m thankful that that manager took the time to say “I’m not hiring you, however I want to give you a tip. When a potential employer asks you why you want to work there, you should come up with an answer that shows them you know what they’re looking for”. I will be honest, it took me quite a while to understand how to find this kind of information and a very long while to understand that should be my point of view. So, when applying for a job, look at the information available about the company and the job. Tailor the information you can provide toward demonstrating their values.

One more story: one of my clients was a large retailer and in the application process, they asked (bluntly) “have you ever taken anything you didn’t pay for?”. A candidate I knew would be good in the role, applied for the job. I had spoken with the manager and asked her to interview the candidate because I was sure there was a good match. The manager informed me that the applicant was coded by the system as “don’t interview”. After a great deal of work, we figured out that the candidate had answered the question “yes”. In the eyes of the company’s leadership and those that devised the question, that indicated that the candidate was telling them that he had stolen in the past. I asked the candidate why he responded in this manner and he told me that one time his parents and he had stayed in a hotel, he had liked the pen on the desk and had taken it.

After some coaching, he better understood that the question actually meant “did you steal anything?” and that pens (and other things like that) at a hotel are actually covered in the price of the room. Yes, that’s a long story. The point is if you are a little unsure, or new to applying for jobs, consider having a friend, or someone you trust help you interpret the questions on the application. You want to respond honestly, but also in a way that helps you get to the next phase – the interview.

2. Know your value: when applying for a job, it’s a tricky balance to be able to demonstrate your value. Most companies want the ideal candidate – which is someone they’re confident can do the job well and provide a higher value than the check issued on payday. However, it’s very rare that someone can come in and say “Yes, I can do that, here is X years of experience where I have already demonstrated that somewhere else”. Now, it can happen, but in most instances, the job we apply for, is not the exact thing we have already done. We probably have some experience that’s related and that‘s why we think we can do it. But most times, we don’t really know yet. And that’s OK. You need to believe in yourself and your ability to do a great job. To learn whatever will be needed to be learned. And it’s natural to have some doubts or questions in your head. However, in the application you want to provide responses that are a resounding “YES” when yes is the answer they’re looking for.

3. Know how to convey the connection: You can do this yourself or enlist a friend or family member to help you. Review the job requirements/description and list on one side of a piece of paper then on the other side, list your experience, skills and any other assets you offer. Then start to draw lines across the columns. Connect what you have to what they want/need. If you find the position needs/requirements (listed) are not connected to what you have to offer, stretch your brain… think creatively, do you have something that is similar? Maybe it isn’t exact, but maybe it’s close enough. Picture yourself in the job, picture yourself doing a great job, asking questions as needed and demonstrating the initiative and confidence to perform at or above the standards and expectations. If you aren’t 100% confidence, pretend that you are. Your goal is to get through their screens and get to the interview, so be honest and optimistic as possible. – If they ask if you are available to work all shifts, say yes, (of course there are exceptions, but you can explain that and preferences when you are in the interview). Again, don’t lie, but if you need to guess, make sure your guess is toward the answer they want to hear. And, if you are unsure what answer they want to hear, get someone else’s (or several someone else’s’ opinions).

Also look at what you have that does not match what they are looking for, then ask yourself “Why do I want this job?” “What do I want from this job?” “Will I be happy in this job?” “Can I do this job well?” and then decide if that changes your mind about applying for it.

Remember, stretching is OK and you’ll never be 100% sure until you get a chance to do it, but the point of the application is not to prove you can do the job, but to get yourself an interview where you have a chance to better understand the job, the company, other aspects AND to demonstrate what a great match you are and what value you can offer.

A quick note on resumes – same thoughts apply to resumes. Do not send the same resume for multiple jobs, look at each company and position and tailor the words you use, the order you present information, etc. to match the value they are seeking, the value you can offer. Always tailor your cover letter!

Until 20 years ago in the US, most people thought that people with disabilities were lesser and therefore didn’t deserve equality. I don’t know if we deserve it. But I think we need to show our value through the work that we do and our participation in the economy.

As always, if you disagree with me, or want to comment, please do.

If you are unsure what a person with a disability can do? Take my “Disability Quiz” online

Unsure of what value people with disabilities (as a group) can offer to businesses? Feel free to download my new eBook: Disability Inclusion: A Summary of the Direct and Indirect Benefits)

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